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Supreme Court Justices

John Campbell (1811-1889)

John Campbell was born in Georgia on June 24, 1811. He was admitted to the bar in Georgia at 17 years of age, in 1828. Two years later, he moved to Alabama to practice law, where he was lauded an an excellent advocate. A seat on the Court opened after the death in 1852 of John McKinley, also from Alabama. That was a presidential election year, and Millard Fillmore, a lame duck, was unable to gain Senate approval of any his three nominees to the seat. After the inauguration of Franklin Pierce in March 1853, some members of the Supreme Court urged him to nominate Campbell, who was an experience Supreme Court advocate. Campbell was just 41 years old, although he had been practicing law for over 20 years. As a southerner, Campbell supported the institution of slavery, and in 1857 wrote a strong opinion in Dred Scott asserting the claim that the Constitution was a compact among the states. This consequence of the "compact" theory of the Constitution was that states possessed the power to leave the Union. When Alabama seceded from the Union in April 1861, Campbell resigned from the Court and returned to the state. He served in the Confederate executive branch, and after the war was imprisoned for several months. After Campbell was released from prison, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana and practiced law. He was the lawyer for the butchers in 1873 in the Slaughterhouse Cases. Although his clients lost, the Court borrowed his arguments in the late 1890s when it began to strike down state laws on substantive due process grounds.

Further reading: Tony Freyer, "John Archibald Campbell," in The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (1992).