Lamar, Lucius Q. C. Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Lamar was the first southerner appointed to the Supreme Court after the Civil War. As an associate justice, he championed the rights of business over government.

Lamar was born into the landed southern aristocracy, in which public service was a tradition. A cousin, Joseph R. Lamar, also served on the Supreme Court. Lamar graduated from Emory College in 1845, read the law in Macon, Georgia, and passed the bar in 1847. For the next five years, he taught mathematics at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and practiced law. In 1852 he returned to Georgia and, with a friend, established a successful law practice in Covington.Cleveland, Grover;nominations to the Court

Lucius Q. C. Lamar

(Library of Congress)

During the Civil War, he served as colonel of the Eighteenth Mississippi Regiment and the Confederate ambassador to Russia. He ended the Civil War as a judge advocate for the Confederate Army. After the war, he resumed the practice of law in Mississippi.

After receiving a pardon, Lamar served in the U.S. Congress and was appointed secretary of the interior by President Grover Cleveland in 1885. On December 6, 1887, he was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Cleveland, a nomination that was the object of a bitterly fought battle, with attacks on his age and lack of judicial experience. Those senators leading the battle for confirmation feared his rejection would be a ban on all Confederate veterans. Lamar was confirmed on January 16, 1888, by a vote of 32-28, and sworn in two days later. He was the first Democrat appointed to the Court since Stephen Field in 1862.

The Interstate Commerce CommissionInterstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was created in 1887 with broad regulatory powers. These powers were challenged by an Iowa law forbidding manufacture of liquor for both intrastate and interstate sale. In the majority opinion in Kidd v. Pearson[case]Kidd v. Pearson[Kidd v. Pearson] (1888), Lamar defined commerce as the transportation and sale of goods, which excluded manufacturing, the transformation of goods. The ICC could regulate commerce but could not regulate manufacturing, a severe limitation on its powers.

Although he served as an associate justice for only five years, much of Lamar’s renown came as a result of his dissenting opinions in a number of cases. In Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway Co. v. Minnesota[case]Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway Co. v. Minnesota[Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway Co. v. Minnesota] (1890), Lamar’s dissent said legislators, not courts, should have the power to decide the reasonableness of railroad rates. In In re Neagle[case]Neagle, In re[Neagle, In re] (1890), Lamar wrote a dissenting opinion upholding the conviction of a U.S. marshal for killing a judge’s assailant, saying an act was not done in an official capacity unless there was an explicit statute to that effect. In Field v. Clark[case]Field v. Clark[Field v. Clark] (1892), Lamar wrote that Congress’s giving the president the right to impose discretionary tariffs by executive decision was an improper delegation of power.Lamar, Lucius Q. C.

Further Reading
  • Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004.
  • Ely, James W., Jr. The Fuller Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003.
  • Wagman, Robert J. The Supreme Court: A Citizen’s Guide. New York: Pharos Books, 1993.
  • Witt, Elder. Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1990.

Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway Co. v. Minnesota

Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)

Interstate compacts

Kidd v. Pearson

States’ rights and state sovereignty

Categories: History