Justice William Rufus Day

Justice William Rufus Day joined the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2, 1903, replacing Justice George Shiras. Day was born on April 17, 1849 near Akron, Ohio. In 1870, he graduated from the University of Michigan. Day spent a year studying law with an attorney in his hometown and another year studying law at the University of Michigan. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1872 and spent most of the rest of the 19th century in private practice.

In 1897, President William McKinley appointed Day as Assistant U.S. Secretary of State. He became the 36th Secretary of State a year later, although he would hold that position for only five months. Day then helped negotiate peace terms at the end of the Spanish-American War. In February 1899, McKinley nominated Day to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He would spend about four years on that court.

President Theodore Roosevelt nominated Day to the U.S. Supreme Court on February 19, 1903. The Senate confirmed him on February 23, and Day took the judicial oath a week later. He would serve on the Court for nearly two decades.

In the 1914 decision of Weeks v. U.S., Day articulated an early version of what has become known as the exclusionary rule. Writing for a unanimous Court, he found that evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution could not be used in a federal criminal prosecution. Mapp v. Ohio would extend this rule to state courts nearly half a century later.

Day wrote another notable opinion in Hammer v. Dagenhart, limiting the commerce power of Congress under the Constitution. This 1918 decision (overruled in 1941) struck down a federal law that sought to disincentivize the use of child labor by banning products of that labor from being sold in interstate commerce. However, Day sometimes gave more leeway to state governments seeking to impose economic regulations for the public good. For example, he dissented in Lochner v. New York, in which the Court ruled that the constitutional right to freedom of contract prevented New York from setting maximum working hours for bakers.

Day retired from the Supreme Court on November 13, 1922 and was replaced by Justice Pierce Butler. He died on July 9, 1923 in Michigan and was taken back to Ohio for burial.

Selected Opinions by Justice Day:

Burdeau v. McDowell (1921)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The government may retain for use as evidence in the criminal prosecution of their owner incriminating documents that are turned over to it by private individuals who procured them through a wrongful search without the participation or knowledge of any government official.

Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918)

Topic: Powers of Congress

The manufacture of goods is not commerce, nor do the facts that they are intended for interstate commerce and are shipped in interstate commerce make their production a part of that commerce subject to the control of Congress.

Eastern States Retail Lumber Ass'n v. U.S. (1914)

Topic: Antitrust

When, in this case, by concerted action, the names of wholesalers who were reported as having made sales to consumers were periodically reported to the other members of the associations, the conspiracy to accomplish that which was the natural consequence of such action could be readily inferred.

Weeks v. U.S. (1914)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The tendency of those executing federal criminal laws to obtain convictions by means of unlawful seizures and enforced confessions in violation of federal rights is not to be sanctioned by the courts that are charged with the support of constitutional rights.

Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus (1908)

Topic: Copyrights

The sole right to vend granted by federal copyright law does not secure to the owner of the copyright the right to qualify future sales by their vendee or to limit or restrict such future sales at a specified price.