Woods, William B. Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

While on the Supreme Court, Woods wrote more opinions than any other associate justice. He was noted for his understanding of complicated issues, particularly the civil rights of African Americans, patent cases, and interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

After graduating from Yale in 1845 and studying law in Newark, Ohio, Woods was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1847. Between 1862 and 1866, he served in the Union army in the Civil War, seeing action at Shiloh, Chickasaw, Vicksburg, and in General William T. Sherman’s march to the sea and rising to the rank of brigadier general. After the war, Woods went to Alabama and took an active part in the Reconstruction policies of the federal government.Hayes, Rutherford B.;nominations to the Court

William B. Woods

(Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

In 1880 Woods was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Rutherford B. Hayes, becoming the first justice appointed from a Confederate state since 1853. Woods was a diligent worker, writing 207 opinions, most dealing with routine legal disputes involving patents, real property, and estate and trust cases. A few of his opinions touched on constitutional issues. In the United States v. Harris[case]Harris, United States v.[Harris, United States v.] (1883), Woods asserted that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give Congress authority to enact laws that punished individuals for depriving other individuals of their civil rights. In Presser v. Illinois[case]Presser v. Illinois[Presser v. Illinois] (1886), he maintained that the Second Amendment was applicable in federal but not state activities.


Presser v. Illinois


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