Justice Samuel Freeman Miller

Justice Samuel Freeman Miller joined the U.S. Supreme Court on July 21, 1862, replacing Justice Peter Vivian Daniel. Miller was born on April 5, 1816 in Richmond, Kentucky. He initially pursued a medical career, but he then chose to study law and was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1847. Three years later, he moved to Iowa due to his abolitionist views. (Kentucky was a slave state and Iowa a free state at the time.)

Miller became active in the newly founded Republican Party during the years leading up to the Civil War. On July 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln nominated Miller to the U.S. Supreme Court. His route to the Court progressed swiftly. The Senate confirmed Miller on the day of his nomination, and he took the judicial oath five days later. He became the first Supreme Court Justice from a state west of the Mississippi River.

Miller spent close to three decades on the Court, writing over 600 opinions. Many members of the legal profession felt that he would make an appropriate successor to Chief Justice Salmon Portland Chase when Chase died in 1873, but President Ulysses S. Grant took a different direction. Miller played an important role in the disputed 1876 presidential election, which ended Reconstruction. He served on the electoral commission that voted to award 20 disputed electoral votes, and thus the Presidency, to Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes.

During the Civil War, Miller supported the wartime measures enacted by Lincoln when these faced legal challenges. However, his most notable contributions to the Court involved some of the earliest cases interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment, which was ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War. Miller authored the opinion of the Court in the Slaughterhouse Cases, which took a very narrow view of the Privileges or Immunities Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. (This made the Due Process Clause the main basis for cases involving "fundamental rights.") He also agreed with the majority in the Civil Rights Cases, which held that the Fourteenth Amendment does not allow the federal government to prohibit discrimination by private parties.

Miller died on October 13, 1890 in Washington, D.C and was buried in the Iowa town where he lived before serving on the Supreme Court. Justice Henry Billings Brown replaced him on the Court.

Selected Opinions by Justice Miller:

Head Money Cases (1884)

Topic: Taxes

A tax is uniform under the Constitution when it operates with the same force and effect in every place where the subject of it is found.

Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony (1884)

Topic: Copyrights

Congress can confer copyright protection for photographs that are representations of original intellectual conceptions.

Adams v. Burke (1873)

Topic: Patents

When the patentee, or the person having their rights, sells a machine or instrument whose sole value is in its use, they receive the consideration for its use and part with the right to restrict that use.

Slaughterhouse Cases (1873)

Topic: Due Process

The privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States are those that arise out of the nature and essential character of the national government, the provisions of the Constitution, or federal laws and treaties made in pursuance thereof. (The main holding of this case addressed the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Due Process Clause. However, it is significant for due process doctrine because it made the Due Process Clause the foundation for most Fourteenth Amendment claims involving fundamental rights. This function otherwise might have been served by the Privileges or Immunities Clause.)

Crandall v. Nevada (1867)

Topic: Taxes

States cannot use their taxing power to impede or embarrass the constitutional operations of the federal government, or the rights that its citizens hold under it.