HomeConstitutional LawLegal HistoryLegal EthicsEvidenceProfessional ResponsibilityContact MeSearch


Supreme Court Justices

William Day (1849-1923)

William Day was born in Ohio on April 17, 1849. After obtaining a bachelor's degree at the University of Michigan, Day spent an additional year there learning law. He then returned to Ohio to practice law. After serving as an advisor to then-Gov. William McKinley of Ohio, Day served as assistant secretary of state and then as Secretary of State to President McKinley during the pivotal year of 1898, when McKinley was drawn by jingoistic elements in his party to war with Spain (the Spanish-American War of 1898). As Secretary of State Day signed a protocol for a ceasefire with the French ambassador, who was acting in behalf of Spain. Day then resigned as Secretary of State to become one of the negotiators of the terms between the United States and Spain.

In 1899, Day was nominated by McKinley to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which encompasses Ohio. He remained on the Court until the retirement of George Shiras, Jr. of Pennsylvania on February 23, 1903. President Teddy Roosevelt quickly nominated Day to replace Shiras, in part to placate Ohio Republicans. Day took office on March 2, 1903, and remained on the Court for 19 years. Day was a moderate on a Court that constitutionalized freedom of contract in Lochner v. New York and other cases. Day dissented in Lochner and in Coppage v. Kansas (1915), which unconstitutional Kansas's law prohibiting the use of yellow-dog provisions in labor contracts. A yellow-dog provision barred an employee from joining a union while employed by the employer. Kansas had barred the inclusion of such provisions in labor contracts, which the Court held violated freedom of contract as interpreted in Lochner. Day also concluded that laws segregating blacks and whites were unconstitutional. On the other hand, Day wrote the Court's opinion in Hammer v. Dagenhart, which held unconstitutional the Federal Child Labor Act as beyond Congress's interstate commerce power. In other interstate commerce cases, Day generally permitted federal regulation.

Day retired in late 1922. He died on July 9, 1923, at 74.