Justice Willis Van Devanter

Justice Willis Van Devanter joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 3, 1911, filling a seat vacated by Justice Edward Douglass White. (White was elevated from Associate Justice to Chief Justice at that point.) Van Devanter was born on April 17, 1859 in Marion, Indiana. He graduated from Indiana Asbury University in 1878 and received a law degree from the University of Cincinnati Law School three years later.

Van Devanter then moved west to the Wyoming Territory to practice law. He eventually became a city attorney for Cheyenne and briefly the Chief Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court. Van Devanter then returned to private practice for several years. In the late 1890s, he was appointed as an Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of the Interior. Van Devanter remained there until 1903, while also teaching at the Columbian University School of Law, now the George Washington University School of Law.

President Theodore Roosevelt nominated Van Devanter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in February 1903. The Senate confirmed him soon afterward. Van Devanter would spend nearly eight years in that role. On December 12, 1910, President William Howard Taft nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him just three days later, and he took the judicial oath at the start of the following month.

Van Devanter would spend about a quarter of a century on the Supreme Court, spanning the First World War, the economic boom of the 1920s, and the Great Depression. A conservative jurist, he formed part of the "Four Horsemen," a group that also included Justices Pierce Butler, James Clark McReynolds, and George Sutherland. This bloc typically struck down economic regulations such as the New Deal legislation engineered by President Franklin Roosevelt. However, Van Devanter wrote relatively few opinions considering the length of his tenure. He suffered from writer’s block, sometimes called "pen paralysis."

Van Devanter retired from the Supreme Court on June 2, 1937, the first of the Four Horsemen to leave. This helped shift the Court to the left because Roosevelt replaced him with liberal Justice Hugo Black. Van Devanter died on February 8, 1941 in Washington, D.C. and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery there.