Morrow, William W. (1843–1929)

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MORROW, WILLIAM W. (1843–1929)

William W. Morrow served nearly thirty-two years on the federal bench. President benjamin harrison in 1892 appointed him to the Northern District of California; President william mckinley in 1897 elevated him to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he served until retirement in 1923.

His most influential opinion came in In Re Wong Kim Ark (1897). Morrow relied on history and precedent in the Ninth Circuit to define a common law basis for citizenship. He held that under the first section of the fourteenth amendment a child whose parents were subjects of the emperor of China but domiciled in the United States at the time of the child's birth derived his citizenship from the place of birth rather than the father's citizenship. Morrow's opinion, which the Supreme Court affirmed in united states v. wong kim ark (1898), confirmed the claims of thousands of Chinese to American citizenship.

Morrow's opinion in United States v. Wheeler et al. (1912) revealed his profound suspicion of federal authority. Arizona officials had refused to prosecute the perpetrators of the Bisbee deportations, in which private citizens had forcibly removed over 200 members of the Industrial Workers of the World from Arizona to New Mexico. The United States sought to prosecute the leaders of the deportation under the conspiracy section of the force act of 1870. Morrow, however, rejected federal intervention. He held that the Fourteenth Amendment applied only to those rights explicitly provided for by Congress and which had not been historically entrusted to the states. Morrow reasoned that the acts of private individuals did not constitute state action under the amendment, that the 1870 act applied only to the rights of freedmen, and that Congress had not passed any statute making kidnapping a federal crime. Morrow refused to allow the federal government to intervene, no matter how just the cause, in an area traditionally left to the state police power.

Morrow's conservative jurisprudence paralleled his Republican politics. Through three decades of service on the Ninth Circuit he provided leadership to a court committed, like himself, to precedent and dual federalism.

Kermit L. Hall


Jury, John G. 1921 William W. Morrow. California Law Review 10:1–7.

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Morrow, William W. (1843–1929)

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