Vanderbilt Law Review


Terry Calvani

First Page



Felix Frankfurter observed in 1937 that "American legal history has done very little to rescue the [United States Supreme] Court from the limbo of impersonality."' Subsequently, numerous individual and collective works have focused on the more prominent figures in the history of that institution.' Unfortunately, there remain many justices of the Supreme Court who have received relatively little scholarly attention. Yet, as one political scientist has recently lamented, "[until] there is a fuller awareness of the inter-play between individual personalities and decision making, it is unlikely there will be 'an adequate history of the Supreme Court."

One such individual is Justice Howell Jackson, who served on the Supreme Court for a brief period of time in the final decade of the nineteenth century. As a young man, Jackson was a distinguished member of the Tennessee bar. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1880. Six years later President Grover Cleveland appointed Jackson to the United States Circuit Court. Following the creation of the Court of Appeals by Congress in 1891, Jackson served the Sixth Circuit as its first presiding judge. In the winter of 1893, Associate Justice Lucius Q. C. Lamar died and President Benjamin Harrison elevated Jackson to the United States Supreme Court. Although there has been some scholarship devoted to Jackson's term in the Senate and tenures on the Circuit Court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court, no attention has been focused on his early career.' This paper will seek to explore that period in order to secure some greater understanding of Jackson's career development.