As a Supreme Court justice, McKinley supported states’ rights over the authority of the federal government.
McKinley began his long, diverse political career in 1820 with a seat in the Alabama state legislature. In November, 1826, he entered the U.S. Senate upon the death of Henry Chambers. While a senator, he advocated governmental assistance to individual settlers as opposed to large land speculators. McKinley also favored bankruptcy laws that favored the small, landowning farmer. By 1829 he was chairman of the Senate committee on public lands. In 1830, however, McKinley was not reelected, and he returned to the Alabama state legislature. After two years, McKinley returned to Congress as a representative, but after one term, he was back in the state legislature and running again for the Senate.
McKinley was reelected senator but never took office. Congress increased the number of Supreme Court justices from seven to nine in March, 1837. President Andrew Jackson first offered a seat to William Smith of Alabama. When he refused, Jackson then offered it to McKinley, who accepted. President Martin Van Buren nominated McKinley on April 22, 1837. The Senate confirmed his nomination on September 25, 1837, and McKinley took his seat on January 9, 1838. He was assigned to the newly created Ninth Circuit, which included Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. McKinley claimed that his far-flung circuit, quite distant from Washington, D.C., was an overwhelming duty that required him to travel ten thousand miles a year, despite his relocation to Louisville, Kentucky, which placed him between the capital and his circuit
In Bank of Augusta v. Earle
In the 1849 Passenger Cases, McKinley claimed that the federal government, not New York and Massachusetts, had authority over immigrants entering the two states from overseas until they became permanent residents of either state. Despite McKinley’s strong support of states’ rights, he was actually a moderate who acknowledged the necessity of occasional federal intervention.
Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004. Huebner, Timothy S. The Taney Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. Miller, F. Thornton. “John McKinley.” In The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789-1993, edited by Clare Cushman. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1993. Monroe, Elizabeth Brand. “John McKinley.” In The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Melvin I. Urofsky. New York: Garland, 1994.
Bank of Augusta v. Earle
States’ rights and state sovereignty