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Supreme Court Justices

William Strong (1808-1895)

William Strong was born in Connecticut on May 6, 1808. His father was a Congregationalist minister, which at that time was the established church in Connecticut (Connecticut would disestablish the "Standing Order" in 1818-1819). Strong was the eldest child of William and Marriet Deming Strong. Strong graduated from Yale, and later returned to study law, at a time when the more recognized school in Connecticut was the Litchfield Law School (which ceased operations in 1833). After practicing law in Connecticut, Strong moved to Pennsylvania. In the late 1840s, Strong was elected to the House of Representatives and served two terms. In 1857, as the Civil War was nearing, Strong was elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. He remained in office until 1868. Although a Democrat in the 1840s, by the 1860s Strong was a Republican.

In early 1870, Strong was nominated to the Court to replace the retired Robert Grier. In May 1871, in one of his first opinions for the Court, Strong reversed a decision of the Court from a year earlier, declaring constitutional the declaration that the United States can force creditors to take payment in greenbacks (legal tender) rather than gold. In Hepburn v. Griswold (1870), a 4-3 Court had held such action unconstitutional. Writing the Court's initial decision was Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, who as Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury had only reluctantly agreed with Congress's decision to make greenbacks legal tender. The Court was missing two members of the Court when Hepburn v. Griswold was decided. Strong, along with fellow nominee Joseph Bradley, were nominated by President Ulysses S. Grant in part (how much in part is subject to dispute among historians) because he knew they would hold the Legal Tender Act constitutional.  In Strauder v. West Virginia (1880), Strong wrote for the Court declaring unconstitutional as violative of the equal protection clause state laws that barred the freedmen (blacks or African-Americans) from serving on juries. But Strong and Court also permitted states to evade equal protection claims through types of discrimination not discriminatory on their face. In general, Strong did not view Reconstruction as substantially disruptive of relations between the federal government and individuals. He joined the majority opinion in the Slaughterhouse Cases, but dissented with Justice Stephen Field in Munn v. Illinois (1877). Strong was one of five members of the Court to serve on the Electoral Commission in 1877, concerning the disputed presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes, the eventual winner and Republican, and Samuel J. Tilden, the Democrat (see the biography of Joseph Bradley for more information on this dispute).

Strong was a devout Presbyterian who served on a number of religious affairs committees. He favored a constitutional amendment declaring the United States a Christian nation. Like many other Protestants at this time, Strong desired a formal acknowledgment of the Christian foundation of American society, but was opposed to an established church.

Strong resigned from the Court in 1880. He died on August 19, 1895.