An isolated and irascible personality, McReynolds developed over the course of his twenty-six years of service into one of the most conservative justices of the twentieth century. As one of the Four Horsemen, he was notorious for his adamant opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal measures.
McReynolds has been characterized by his contemporaries and historians as arrogant, abrasive, nasty, bad-tempered, and thoroughly disagreeable. Chief Justice William H. Taft said McReynolds “seems to delight in making others uncomfortable.” A lifelong bachelor, he was particularly unkind to women. He was also a virulent racist and an anti-Semite, openly offensive to the two Jews
James C. McReynolds
McReynolds was born in rural Kentucky and schooled in private institutions. He graduated from Vanderbilt with honors in 1882 and received his legal training at the University of Virginia. He practiced in Nashville, Tennessee, and taught law for a few years at Vanderbilt. In 1896 he ran for Congress but was defeated. Although he was a Democrat, Republican Theodore Roosevelt appointed him assistant to the attorney general and from 1903 to 1907, McReynolds vigorously pursued the trusts.
After returning to law practice, this time in New York City, he was appointed attorney general of the United States by President Woodrow Wilson. Within a year, he had made numerous enemies as much because of his demeanor as because of his antitrust efforts. On August 19, 1914, Wilson nominated McReynolds to fill the vacant seat on the Court left by the deceased Horace H. Lurton.
In his 1920’s opinions, McReynolds was hostile to government regulation of business, with the notable exception of antitrust cases. He championed the rights of private property
Roosevelt, Franklin D.
Van Devanter, Willis