Otto, William T. Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Otto was the first Supreme Court reporter to issue volumes of the United States Reports without his name on the spines.

Born in Philadelphia, Otto moved to Indiana after studying law. In Indiana, he established himself as a distinguished lawyer, judge, and professor of law. A supporter of Abraham Lincoln, Otto received an appointment in 1863 as assistant secretary of the interior. In that position, Otto was involved principally in Indian affairs. In 1871 he served as an arbitrator for claims against Spain made by U.S. citizens in Cuba. In 1875 he argued successfully before the Supreme Court in Murdock v. Memphis that the Judiciary Act of 1867 could not be inferred to radically expand the review powers of the federal judiciary over state courts interpreting state law.

Also in 1875, shortly after Murdock, Otto succeeded John W. Wallace as the Supreme Court’s reporter of decisions, a position he held until 1883. He edited seventeen volumes (91-107) of the United States Reports, and he was the first to issue the volumes without his name on the spines, as previous reporters had done. In 1883 he resumed private practice, and in 1885 he served as the U.S. representative to the Universal Postal Congress in Lisbon, Portugal. In private, Otto was an easygoing, affable man.

Murdock v. Memphis

Supreme Court Reporter

Wallace, John W.

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