Melville Weston Fuller Court (1888-1910)

Melville Weston Fuller was the 8th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, succeeding Morrison R. Waite. He was nominated on April 30, 1888 by President Grover Cleveland. The Senate confirmed Fuller on July 20, 1888, and he was sworn into office on October 10, 1888. Fuller served as Chief Justice until he died on July 4, 1910 and was succeeded by Edward Douglass White, who had served as an Associate Justice under Fuller.

The membership of the Fuller Court changed frequently. Of the eight Associate Justices who welcomed Fuller to the Court, only Justice John Marshall Harlan would outlast him. Five Associate Justices died within five years after Fuller joined the Court. Justices Stanley Matthews, Samuel Freeman Miller, and Joseph Bradley died between 1889 and 1892. They were replaced by Justices David Josiah Brewer, Henry Billings Brown, and George Shiras, Jr., respectively. The deaths of Justices Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar and Samuel Blatchford followed in 1893. They were replaced by Justices Howell Edmunds Jackson and White, respectively. Jackson then died after just two and a half years on the Court and was replaced by Justice Rufus Wheeler Peckham.

Justice Stephen Johnson Field ended 34 years of service on the Court with his retirement in 1897. President William McKinley replaced him with Justice Joseph McKenna. Theodore Roosevelt then appointed three Associate Justices during his Presidency. These included renowned jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who took his seat in 1902 upon the death of Justice Horace Gray. When Shiras retired in 1903 and Brown in 1906, they were replaced by Justices William R. Day and William Henry Moody, respectively. The last change to the Fuller Court came when Peckham died in 1909 and was replaced by Justice Horace Harmon Lurton. This appointment came from President William Howard Taft, who would become Chief Justice Taft barely a decade later.

The Fuller Court is perhaps best known for a pair of decisions interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment: Plessy v. Ferguson and Lochner v. New York. Plessy was one of the first major decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause. In this case, the Fuller Court upheld racial segregation under a “separate but equal” theory. Plessy bolstered Jim Crow laws for more than half a century. The lone dissenter, Justice Harlan, warned the other Justices that their decision “will prove to be quite as pernicious as…the Dred Scott Case.” His prophecy proved accurate.

Meanwhile, Lochner gave its name to a series of cases that overzealously applied the Due Process Clause to economic regulations. Citing freedom of contract, the Supreme Court blocked many laws protecting workers during the “Lochner era.” The Court changed course in the 1930s, leaving Lochner behind as a prime example of judicial overreach. Before his confirmation, current Chief Justice John Roberts condemned this decision for making the law rather than interpreting the law.

Associate Justices on the Fuller Court:

  • Samuel Freeman Miller (1862-1890)
  • Stephen Johnson Field (1863-1897)
  • Joseph Bradley (1870-1892)
  • John Marshall Harlan (1877-1911)
  • Stanley Matthews (1881-1889)
  • Samuel Blatchford (1882-1893)
  • Horace Gray (1882-1902)
  • Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (1888-1893)
  • David Josiah Brewer (1890-1910)
  • Henry Billings Brown (1891-1906)
  • George Shiras, Jr. (1892-1903)
  • Howell Edmunds Jackson (1893-1895)
  • Edward Douglass White (1894-1921)
  • Rufus Wheeler Peckham (1896-1909)
  • Joseph McKenna (1898-1925)
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1902-1932)
  • William Rufus Day (1903-1922)
  • William Henry Moody (1906-1910)
  • Horace Harmon Lurton (1910-1914)

Selected Landmark Cases of the Fuller Court:

Weems v. U.S. (1910)

Author: Joseph McKenna

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

The Eighth Amendment is progressive and may acquire wider meaning as public opinion becomes enlightened by humane justice.

Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus (1908)

Author: William Rufus Day

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.

Adair v. U.S. (1908)

Author: John Marshall Harlan

Topic: Due Process; Labor & Employment

It is not within the power of Congress to make it a criminal offense against the United States for a carrier engaged in interstate commerce to discharge an employee simply because of their membership in a labor organization. A provision to that effect is an invasion of personal liberty and the right of property and is unenforceable under the Due Process Clause.

Muller v. Oregon (1908)

Author: David Josiah Brewer

Topic: Due Process; Equal Protection; Labor & Employment

The regulation of the working hours of women falls within the police power of the state, and a statute directed exclusively to such regulation does not conflict with the Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses.

Loewe v. Lawlor (1908)

Author: Melville Weston Fuller

Topic: Antitrust

A combination may be in restraint of interstate trade and within the meaning of the Sherman Antitrust Act even when the persons exercising the restraint are not engaged in interstate trade, and some of the means employed are acts within a state and individually beyond the scope of federal authority.

Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co. (1907)

Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

In its capacity of quasi-sovereign, the state has an interest in all the earth and air within its domain, independent of the titles of its citizens. It is fair and reasonable for a state to demand that the air over its territory should not be polluted on a great scale, and that its forests, crops, and orchards should not be destroyed or threatened by the acts of parties beyond its control.

Missouri v. Illinois (1906)

Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Topic: Role of Courts; Climate Change & Environment

The Supreme Court should only intervene to enjoin the action of one state at the demand of another state when the case is of serious magnitude, clearly and fully proved. Only such principles should be applied as the Court is prepared to maintain. (This case involved sewage-polluted water.)

Hodges v. U.S. (1906)

Author: David Josiah Brewer

Topic: Labor & Employment

A U.S. court has no jurisdiction under the Thirteenth Amendment or other federal laws of a charge of conspiracy made and carried out in a state to prevent citizens of African descent, because of their race and color, from making or carrying out contracts and agreements to labor.

Lochner v. New York (1905)

Author: Rufus Wheeler Peckham

Topic: Due Process; Labor & Employment

The general right to make a contract in relation to one's business is part of the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and this includes the right to purchase and sell labor, except as controlled by the state in the legitimate exercise of its police power.

Swift & Co. v. U.S. (1905)

Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Topic: Antitrust

Even if the separate elements of a scheme are lawful, when they are bound together by a common intent as parts of an unlawful scheme to monopolize interstate commerce, the plan may make the parts unlawful.

Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905)

Author: John Marshall Harlan

Topic: Health Care

A state may enact a compulsory vaccination law, since the legislature has the discretion to decide whether vaccination is the best way to prevent smallpox and protect public health. The legislature may exempt children from the law without violating the equal protection rights of adults if the law applies equally among adults.

Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co. (1903)

Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Topic: Copyrights

The least pretentious picture has more originality in it than directories, which may be copyrighted.

Yamataya v. Fisher (1903)

Author: John Marshall Harlan

Topic: Immigration & National Security

When a foreign national had notice, although not formal, of the investigation instituted for the purpose of ascertaining whether they were illegally in the country, the courts cannot interfere with the executive officers conducting it.

Mifflin v. R.H. White Co. (1903)

Author: Henry Billings Brown

Topic: Copyrights

When there is no evidence that the publishers were the assignees or acted as the agents of the author for the purpose of taking out copyright, the copyright entry of a magazine will not validate the copyright entry subsequently made under a different title by the author of a portion of the contents of the magazine.

Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903)

Author: Edward Douglass White

Topic: Powers of Congress

Plenary authority over the tribal relations of the Indians has been exercised by Congress from the beginning, and the power has always been deemed a political one, not subject to be controlled by the judicial department of the government.

U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (1898)

Author: Horace Gray

Topic: Immigration & National Security

The Fourteenth Amendment affirms the rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance, and under the protection of the U.S., including most children born here to resident foreign nationals.

Westinghouse v. Boyden Power Brake Co. (1898)

Author: Henry Billings Brown

Topic: Patents

Even if the patentee brings the defendant within the letter of their claims, infringement should not be found if the defendant has so far changed the principle of the device that the claims of the patent, literally construed, have ceased to represent their actual invention.

Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897)

Author: Rufus Wheeler Peckham

Topic: Due Process

In the privilege of pursuing an ordinary calling or trade, and of acquiring, holding, and selling property, must be embraced the right to make all proper contracts in relation to it.

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. Chicago (1897)

Author: John Marshall Harlan

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use; Due Process

A judgment of a state court, even if authorized by statute, whereby private property is taken for public use without compensation made or secured to the owner, is wanting in the due process of law required by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Author: Henry Billings Brown

Topic: Equal Protection

A law that authorizes or even requires the separation of the two races in public conveyances is not unreasonable. (This decision essentially applied rational basis review to what would now be considered a suspect classification and was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education.)

Wong Wing v. U.S. (1896)

Author: George Shiras, Jr.

Topic: Immigration & National Security

All persons within the territory of the U.S. are entitled to the protections of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Foreign nationals cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor may they be held to answer for a “capital or other infamous crime” unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury.

Fong Yue Ting v. U.S. (1893)

Author: Horace Gray

Topic: Immigration & National Security

An order of deportation is not a punishment for a crime, and this does not deprive a foreign national of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Deciding whether foreign nationals may be permitted to stay in the U.S. falls within the authority of the political departments of the government, and courts cannot express opinions on the wisdom, policy, or justice of measures enacted by Congress in this area.

Nishimura Ekiu v. U.S. (1892)

Author: Horace Gray

Topic: Immigration & National Security

It is not within the province of the judiciary to order that foreigners who have never been naturalized, nor acquired any domicile or residence within the U.S., nor even been admitted into the U.S. pursuant to law, shall be permitted to enter in opposition to the constitutional and lawful measures of the legislative and executive branches of the national government.

Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. (1889)

Author: Stephen Johnson Field

Topic: Immigration & National Security

The power of Congress to exclude foreign nationals from the U.S. is an incident of sovereignty that cannot be surrendered by the treaty-making power.