William Burnham Woods (August 3, 1824 – May 14, 1887) was an American jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. An appointee of President Rutherford B. Hayes, he served from 1881 until 1887. He wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Harris, involving the constitutionality of the Ku Klux Klan Act, and Presser v. Illinois, involving the application of the Second Amendment to the states; both cases adopted a narrow interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. He dissented rarely and wrote mostly uncontroversial opinions, and he has been largely forgotten by history.

William Burnham Woods
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
January 5, 1881 – May 14, 1887
Nominated byRutherford Hayes
Preceded byWilliam Strong
Succeeded byLucius Lamar
Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Fifth Circuit
In office
December 22, 1869 – December 21, 1880
Nominated byUlysses Grant
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byDon Pardee
Personal details
Born(1824-08-03)August 3, 1824
Newark, Ohio, U.S.
DiedMay 14, 1887(1887-05-14) (aged 62)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic (before 1863)
Republican (1863–1887)
RelativesCharles R. Woods (brother)
EducationYale University (BA)
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Union Army
Years of service1862–1866
Rank Brigadier General
Brevet Major General
Commands76th Ohio Infantry
XV Corps

Born in Newark, Ohio, Woods received his degree from Yale University. He practiced law in Newark and entered politics, soon rising to be the speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. A Democrat, he initially opposed the Lincoln administration's policies but supported the Union once the Civil War broke out. He joined the Union army as an officer, participating in a number of battles; after his discharge as a brevet major general in 1866, he settled in Alabama, where he practiced law and engaged in commercial activities.

In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Woods a circuit judge for the Fifth Circuit, which covered six Southern states. In the Slaughter-House Cases and United States v. Cruikshank, he favored a broad interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment that contrasted with the narrower one he supported on the Supreme Court. In another case, he upheld "separate but equal" schools. Hayes nominated Woods to the Supreme Court in 1880, and he was confirmed by the Senate 39–8. On the Court, he was a diligent worker who wrote more opinions than any other associate justice during his six-year tenure. He was struck ill in spring 1886 and died in 1887.

Early life, education, and career edit

William Burnham Woods[1]: 221  was born in Newark, Ohio, on August 3, 1824, to Ezekiel S. Woods, a Kentucky-born merchant and farmer, and Sarah Burnham Woods, who was from New England.[2]: 1328  He attended Western Reserve College (now Case Western Reserve University)[3]: 142  before transferring to Yale University, from which he graduated as valedictorian in 1845.[4]: 179  After returning to Newark, he studied law under the tutelage of S. D. King, a prominent lawyer; the two became partners after Woods was admitted to the bar in 1847.[2]: 1328  Woods took an interest in politics in the 1850s.[5]: 31  While some evidence suggests that he was at first a Whig, he later became a member of the Democratic Party.[5]: 31  In 1855, he married Anne E. Warner, with whom he had two children.[1]: 221 

Woods became Newark's mayor in 1856, and the following year he was elected as a Democrat to the Ohio House of Representatives, immediately becoming its speaker.[2]: 1328 [6]: 572  At first Woods staunchly opposed the policies of the Lincoln administration, but when the Civil War broke out, he supported the Union cause,[5]: 31 [7]: 12  vowing to stand by the federal government "in sunshine or storm, in peace or war, right or wrong".[8]: 13  In February 1862, he joined the 76th Ohio Infantry Regiment as a lieutenant colonel, becoming colonel in September when the previous colonel – his brother, Charles R. Woods – was promoted to brigadier general.[7]: 12 [6]: 572 

Woods served in the Battle of Shiloh, the Siege of Vicksburg, and Sherman's March.[5]: 31  He was made brigadier general in 1865[9]: 899  and participated in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington.[1]: 222  Just before his discharge in February 1866, he was brevetted a major general at the recommendation of Generals Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and John A. Logan.[9]: 899 [1]: 222  After being mustered out, Woods settled in Alabama, where he had been serving; there he practiced law, involved himself in cotton production, and invested in ironworks.[5]: 31–32 [2]: 1329  He had by this time become a Republican, and in 1868 he was elected on the Republican ticket chancellor of the middle chancery division of Alabama.[9]: 899 

Circuit judge edit

An 1869 judicial reorganization law created nine new circuit judgeships.[5]: 32  President Grant appointed Woods to be circuit judge for the Fifth Circuit, which comprised Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and he was sworn in on December 22, 1869.[7]: 10, 12  Little information is available as to why the President selected Woods, but Thomas E. Baynes Jr. suggests that his Republican politics, his military service with Grant, and the fact that his brother-in-law Willard Warner was a U.S. Senator all played a role.[1]: 222 

Woods and Justice Joseph P. Bradley (who was riding circuit) heard the Slaughter-House Cases in 1870; in an opinion by Bradley, they both agreed that the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause should be interpreted broadly to protect civil rights associated with U.S. citizenship against infringement by the states.[7]: 13  In another privileges-and-immunities decision, United States v. Hall (1871), Woods sustained an indictment under the Enforcement Act of 1870, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment gave Congress the power to protect the freedoms of speech and of assembly through legislation.[2]: 1332 [7]: 13–14  The Supreme Court's 1873 ruling in the Slaughter-House Cases rejected Bradley and Woods's broader interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.[7]: 14  In the 1874 Enforcement Act case of United States v. Cruikshank, Bradley dismissed federal charges against the perpetrators of the Colfax massacre, in which scores of African-American men were killed, but Woods dissented without an opinion; when the case reached the Supreme Court by certificate of division, it affirmed Bradley's decision.[7]: 14–15 [10]: 35–36 

Woods expended considerable effort to learn Louisiana law, which was especially complicated due to its French and Spanish roots.[2]: 1330  In the aftermath of the contested 1876 presidential election, he avoided becoming involved in a dispute over the eligibility of a Florida Republican elector who had attempted to resign another federal office by writing to Woods.[2]: 1331  Woods's 1878 decision in Bertonneau v. Board of Directors of City Schools upheld "separate but equal" schools for blacks and whites; he wrote: "White children and colored children are compelled to attend different schools. That is all. The state, while conceding equal privileges and advantages to both races, has the right to manage its schools in the manner which, in its judgment, will best promote the interest of all."[2]: 1333  Woods moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1877.[2]: 1331 

Supreme Court nomination edit

Woods's Supreme Court nomination

Ohio notables and Southern congressmen recommended Woods for an 1877 vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, but President Rutherford B. Hayes nominated John Marshall Harlan instead.[5]: 33–34  In December 1880, the press reported that Justice William Strong intended to resign.[5]: 34–35  Bradley wanted to take his place as circuit justice for the Third Circuit, which would leave the Fifth Circuit position vacant—making it preferable for Strong's replacement to have experience with Louisiana and Texas law.[2]: 1333 [5]: 35  Additionally, Woods's connections to both North and South made him "precisely the kind of candidate Hayes sought to help bind bitter sectional wounds", according to the legal scholar Henry J. Abraham.[11]: 102  Strong submitted his letter of resignation on December 14, and the following day Hayes nominated Woods to take his place.[5]: 35  Despite concerns that too many justices from Ohio were being appointed (Chase, Waite, Swayne, Woods, and the rumored next nominee Stanley Matthews were all associated with that state), the Senate confirmed him by a vote of 39 to 8[5]: 35–36  on December 21, 1880.[10]: 111  He was sworn in on January 5, 1881.[12]: 618 

Supreme Court service edit

Woods remained on the Supreme Court until his death in 1887.[9]: 899  A hard worker on a Court deluged with cases, he wrote more opinions during his tenure than any other associate justice.[1]: 225  Most of his opinions for the Court were in uncontroversial cases, often involving real property, patents, taxation, commerce, municipal law, trusts, or corporations.[5]: 37  He participated in nearly 1,500 cases but dissented only eight times, and Baynes states that he "clearly should be characterized with the majority of the Court".[1]: 225 [13]: 667  His jurisprudence was generally nationalistic: he joined the majority in Juilliard v. Greenman to hold that the federal government could lawfully print paper money, and he dissented when the Court held in United States v. Lee that individuals could sue federal officers.[2]: 1334  In Elk v. Wilkins, he joined a dissent by Harlan when the majority held that Native Americans were not U.S. citizens.[2]: 1335–1336 

Woods interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment more narrowly and conservatively on the Supreme Court than he had on the Fifth Circuit.[12]: 618 [14]: 1097–1098  He wrote for an eight-justice majority in United States v. Harris (1883) that the Fourteenth Amendment did not authorize laws that prohibit individuals from interfering with other individuals' civil rights.[1]: 225  The decision, which involved defendants charged with breaking into a jail and beating four black prisoners (in one case to death), held that the Ku Klux Klan Act exceeded Congress's power.[12]: 618  Harris set the stage for the Court's 8–1 decision later that year in the Civil Rights Cases,[15]: 159  in which Woods joined the majority in holding much of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional.[16]: 142  In Presser v. Illinois, involving a man convicted of violating Illinois law by carrying firearms as part of a private militia, Woods's opinion for a unanimous Court held that the Second Amendment applied only to the federal government;[12]: 619  it "limited the possibilities of applying the Bill of Rights to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment", according to the legal scholar Robert J. Cottrol.[14]: 1098 

Woods became suddenly ill in the spring of 1886[5]: 38  and did not participate in the Court's 1886–87 term;[15]: 13  the details of his illness are not known.[17]: 62  His condition seemed to be improving during a lengthy stay in California, but it soon worsened.[5]: 38  Woods died aged 62 on May 14, 1887, in Washington, D.C.,[12]: 618  and he was buried at the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Newark, Ohio.[18]: 40  President Grover Cleveland nominated Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar to replace him.[16]: 74 

Legacy edit

The scholar Louis Filler began a 1969 essay on Woods by describing him as "one of the least known of all the Justices who have served on the United States Supreme Court".[2]: 1327  A 1970 survey of law professors rated him "below average",[5]: 31  but the legal scholar D. Grier Stephenson suggests that this rating "probably results more from general unfamiliarity than from a careful appraisal of his work".[15]: 55  The historian Stephen Cresswell attributes Woods's low historical reputation to his brief tenure, the frequency of his votes with the majority, and perceptions that he was a carpetbagger with a "muddled judicial philosophy".[12]: 619  According to Timothy L. Hall, "[m]ore a follower than a leader, more an echo of the reverberating ideas of others than an original thinker in his own right, his brief years on the Court climaxed a life too far removed from the center of events to warrant more than passing historical mention".[4]: 181 

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Baynes Jr., Thomas E. (1993). "William B. Woods". In Cushman, Clare (ed.). Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies. Washington, DC: CQ Press. pp. 221–225. ISBN 978-1-60871-832-0.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Filler, Louis (1969). "William B. Woods". In Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L. (eds.). The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789–1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Vol. 2. New York: Chelsea House. pp. 1327–1336. ISBN 0-8352-0217-8.
  3. ^ Paddock, Lisa (1996). Facts about the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: H.W. Wilson Company. ISBN 0-8242-0896-X.
  4. ^ a b Hall, Timothy L. (2001). Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 978-0-8160-4194-7.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Baynes Jr., Thomas E. (1978). "Yankee from Georgia: A Search for Justice Woods". Yearbook. 1978: 31–42.
  6. ^ a b Warner, Ezra J. (1964). Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press. OCLC 445056.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Couch, Harvey C. (1984). A History of the Fifth Circuit, 1891–1981. Washington, DC: Bicentennial Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States. OCLC 12161369.
  8. ^ Hale, F. Dennis (2000). "Buckeye Barristers Dominate the U.S. Supreme Court". Ohio Lawyer. 14 (1): 10–14.
  9. ^ a b c d Biskupic, Joan; Witt, Elder (1997). Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. Vol. 2 (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly. ISBN 978-1-56802-130-0.
  10. ^ a b Kens, Paul (2012). The Supreme Court under Morrison R. Waite, 1874–1888. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-61117-219-5.
  11. ^ Abraham, Henry J. (1999). Justices, Presidents, and Senators. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8476-9604-8.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Cresswell, Stephen (2006). "William Burnham Woods". In Urofsky, Melvin I. (ed.). Biographical Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court: The Lives and Legal Philosophies of the Justices. Washington, DC: CQ Press. pp. 69–73. ISBN 978-1-933116-48-8.
  13. ^ Epstein, Lee; Segal, Jeffery A.; Spaeth, Harold Joseph; Walker, Thomas G. (2021). The Supreme Court Compendium: Two Centuries of Data, Decisions, and Developments (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: CQ Press. ISBN 978-1-0718-3456-5.
  14. ^ a b Cottrol, Robert J. (2005). "Woods, William Burnham". In Hall, Kermit L. (ed.). Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 1097–1098. ISBN 978-0-19-517661-2.
  15. ^ a b c Stephenson Jr., Donald Grier (2003). The Waite Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio. ISBN 978-1-57607-829-7.
  16. ^ a b Fairman, Charles (1987). Reconstruction and Reunion, 1864–88. History of the Supreme Court of the United States. Vol. 7. New York: Macmillan Publishing. ISBN 0-02-536910-5.
  17. ^ Atkinson, David N. (1999). Leaving the Bench: Supreme Court Justices at the End. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-0946-8.
  18. ^ Christensen, George A. (March 2008). "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited". Journal of Supreme Court History. 33 (1): 17–41. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5818.2008.00177.x. S2CID 145227968.
Legal offices
New seat Judge of the United States Circuit Courts for the Fifth Circuit
Succeeded by
Preceded by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by