Justice William Burnham Woods

Justice William Burnham Woods joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 5, 1881, replacing Justice William Strong. Woods was born on August 3, 1824 in Newark, Ohio. He initially attended Western Reserve College (now Case Western Reserve University) but completed his education at Yale, graduating with honors in 1845. Woods returned to Ohio, was admitted to the bar, and entered private practice. He became Mayor of Newark in 1856 and joined the Ohio state legislature a year later. Woods fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, participating in several major battles and serving with distinction.

After the war ended, Woods moved to Alabama. In late 1869, he was appointed to a newly created seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Woods served on that court for over a decade. There, he reviewed the famous Slaughterhouse Cases before they reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Woods voiced a broader vision of the Fourteenth Amendment Privileges or Immunities Clause than did the Supreme Court, which reversed his decision on appeal.

On December 15, 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes nominated Woods to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on December 21 in a 39-8 vote, and he took the judicial oath near the start of the new year. Woods was the first Justice since the Civil War who was appointed from a former Confederate state, although his support for the Union was well-known.

After just six years on the Court, Woods died on May 14, 1887 in Washington, D.C. Justice Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar replaced him on the Court.

Selected Opinions by Justice Woods:

Presser v. Illinois (1886)

Topic: Gun Rights

In view of the fact that all citizens capable of bearing arms constitute the reserved military force of the national government, as well as in view of its general powers, the states cannot prohibit the people from keeping and bearing arms so as to deprive the United States of their rightful resource for maintaining the public security. However, unless restrained by their own constitutions, state legislatures may enact statutes to control and regulate all organizations, drilling, and parading of military bodies and associations, except those that are authorized by the militia laws of the United States.

U.S. v. Harris (1883)

Topic: Equal Protection

When the laws of a state, as enacted by its legislative and construed by its judicial and administered by its executive departments, recognize and protect the rights of all persons, the Fourteenth Amendment imposes no duty and confers no power on Congress.

Egbert v. Lippmann (1881)

Topic: Patents

To constitute the public use of an invention, it is not necessary that more than one of the patented articles should be publicly used. Also, whether the use is public or private does not necessarily depend on the number of persons to whom its use is known. Finally, if an inventor sells a machine of which their invention forms a part, and they allow it to be used without restriction of any kind, the use is public.