Lurton, Horace H. (1844–1914)

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LURTON, HORACE H. (1844–1914)

president william howard taft's nomination of his close friend and former colleague, Horace Lurton, to replace Justice rufus peckham in December 1909 engendered some skepticism. A Confederate veteran of the civil war, Lurton was sixty-six and a pronounced conservative. He was, however, known as a patient and gentle man who sought compromise, and his experience clearly fitted him for the office. Lurton had sat on the Tennessee Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (with Taft and william r. day) and had also taught constitutional law and served as dean of the Law School at Vanderbilt University.

Lurton did not write many majority opinions during his tenure on the Supreme Court. He was usually among a silent majority voting in favor of government authority to sustain, for example, the national police power (e.g., hoke v. united states, 1913) and the sherman antitrust act (standard oil company v. united states, 1911); he dissented without opinion in houston, east & west texas railway co. v. united states (1914). Most of his opinions dealt with procedural technicalities or the intricacies of employer liability laws.

One of the more frequent, though hardly regular, dissenters, Lurton was often in a minority with Justice oliver wendell holmes. Lurton's particular regard for precedent prompted extensive research to uncover those cases that would justify apparently inconsistent stances.

Shortly after his fourth term of court, in June 1914, Lurton died. His belief in law as the cement of society had led him to oppose judicial activism, particularly when "a valid law, under the Constitution, is to be interpreted or modified so as to accomplish … [what a court] shall deem to the public advantage." Despite Lurton's prior experience, his career as a Justice provided little evidence of distinguished achievement.

David Gordon


Watts, James F., Jr. 1969 Horace H. Lurton. In Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel, eds., The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789–1969. New York: Chelsea House.