Vanderbilt Law Review


David R. Stras

First Page



Despite serving for more than sixteen years on the Supreme Court of the United States and authoring more than 300 opinions, Pierce Butler is one of the lesser-known Justices in American history. When his name is mentioned by constitutional scholars, it is usually to deride him for being one of the so-called "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," a group of Justices that invalidated efforts by politicians, especially President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to enact New Deal reforms. Scholars have characterized his role in the development of constitutional law as "minimal," and he is the subject of only one full-length book, A Supreme Court Justice is Appointed, which focuses almost exclusively on his appointment to the Supreme Court rather than his background or contributions to the development of the law. Some scholars have gone even further by characterizing Butler's tenure on the Court as a "failure," and when he is mentioned, it is often on lists of the least successful Supreme Court Justices of all time.

Butler was not one of the great Justices in the Court's history, but he is deeply understudied, likely underestimated, and regrettably misunderstood.