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Supreme Court Justices

William Johnson (1771 - 1834)

William Johnson was born on December 27, 1771, in South Carolina. Johnson graduated from Princeton in 1790, and then read law with Charles C. Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution. Johnson served in the South Carolina House of Representatives while in his early 20s, and was Speaker of the House in 1798. While in the House, Johnson was a Jeffersonian Republican. In 1805, Jefferson nominated him to the Supreme Court after the death of Alfred Moore of North Carolina. The Jeffersonians were disappointed by Johnson's actions during his first years in office, which appeared to be influenced by John Marshall's nationalism. Johnson voted with Marshall and Joseph Story in a number of cases concerning national power, including McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816) and Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1833). In the latter two cases, however, Johnson wrote a concurring opinion as well. In the Marshall Court era, in which few Justices other than Marshall (and, to a lesser extent, Story) wrote opinions, Johnson became well known for his concurring and dissenting opinions. His biographer called Johnson "the first dissenter." He also wrote 112 opinions of the Court.

Johnson married Sarah Bennett in 1794. He died in 1834 in New York, after undergoing surgery to his jaw.