During his short tenure on the Supreme Court, Clarke opposed the Court’s nullification of social and economic regulatory legislation.
The son of a prominent Ohio attorney, Clarke graduated from Western Reserve College in 1877 and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1878 after studying law at Western Reserve and with his father. Clarke practiced law for nearly twenty years in Youngstown, where he was part owner of the Youngstown Vindicator and was active in state Democratic politics. Clarke moved to Cleveland in 1897, where he served as counsel for railroads. Meanwhile, Clarke became an outspoken advocate of such progressive measures as the initiative and referendum, the recall of public officials other than judges, regulations of the hours and conditions of labor, woman suffrage, and civil service reform. Clarke made unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate in 1904 and 1914.
John H. Clarke
Clarke’s record on the Court was consistent with Wilson’s expectations. During his six years on the Court, Clarke regularly voted with the Court’s Progressive bloc to sustain the constitutionality of social and economic regulatory legislation and to support vigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws. In some cases, Clarke cast the swing vote to sustain regulatory legislation. Clarke dissented in various cases in which the Court struck down such laws. In Hammer v. Dagenhart
In cases involving free speech, Clarke espoused the same broad view of state power that he expressed in cases involving social and economic regulations. Most notably, Clarke broke with Holmes and Brandeis to write the majority opinion in Abrams v. United States
Increasingly bored by what he perceived as the triviality of much of the Court’s work and frustrated by what he perceived as his inability to promote his progressive philosophy on an increasingly conservative Court, Clarke resigned from the Court after only six years in order to work for world peace. After retiring from the Court, Clarke spoke and wrote widely on behalf of U.S. entry into the League of Nations
Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004. Renstrom, Peter G. The Taft Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. Shoemaker, Rebecca S. The White Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2004. Warner, Hoyt Landon. The Life of Mr. Justice Clarke: A Testament to the Power of Liberal Dissent in America. Cleveland, Ohio: Western Reserve University Press, 1959.
Abrams v. United States
Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co.
Hammer v. Dagenhart
Resignation and retirement