Well, the results are in, and there was really no contest: Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II was selected by Lowering the Bar readers as the best-named U.S. Supreme Court justice in history. Lamar II received 44% of the votes, nearly three times the share of Terwilliger Jones, who came in second. Here are some facts about each of the contestants. They are listed, with one exception, in the order you ranked them.
The Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamars (51% combined).
The exception is the first Lamar, who I’ll discuss here because it makes the story easier to tell and because, to be honest, he was never actually on the Supreme Court, so it was kind of a trick question anyway. I just thought it was funny to list both these guys.
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar I (hereinafter “Lamar I” or “LQCL1”) was an attorney and judge, however. He was born on his family’s plantation in Georgia in 1797, and was named by his uncle. According to Wikipedia, “[h]is parents had allowed his mother’s brother to name their sons,” and “he named them after his favorite historical heroes.” His favorite historical hero in 1797 was apparently the Roman patriot Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus. But by the time the next kid came along, he was obviously more interested in the French Revolution, because that kid ended up Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar.
Probably neither child was beaten up as often as their names suggest, because this was at a time when Southern gentlemen luxuriated in florid and baroque appellations, such as Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard and Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (both Confederate generals), Alfred Osborn Pope Nicholson (a Tennessee senator), Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (LQCL2’s father-in-law), and Foghorn J. Leghorn (an enormous chicken). LQCL1 actually had a cousin named Gazaway Bugg Lamar, which is just ridiculous.
Anyway, LQCL1 practiced law in Georgia and became a well-respected judge. He died at the age of just 37, apparently a suicide; some sources say he did this after learning a man he had sentenced to death had been innocent, but that’s probably not true.
LQCL2 had arrived a few years before this, in 1825. Ultimately, he also chose to practice law. (He probably did some stuff between birth and becoming a lawyer, but I don’t know what it was.) After practicing in Georgia and Mississippi, he was elected to Congress in 1856. Not only did he leave when Mississippi seceded, he personally drafted that state’s ordinance of secession, so he was totally into the whole rebellion thing. He apparently saw combat, but not much, because he is said to have suffered from “vertigo.” (I assumed this was the kind of “vertigo” you get from thinking too much about getting shot, but there is evidence that the condition persisted later.) Later on, he was appointed as the Confederacy’s “special commissioner to Russia,” although he only got as far as France, and to be honest I’d have stopped there too.
He was a racist.
He was also one of the first Southerners elected to Congress after they started letting Southerners back into Congress, and served there from 1873 until 1885. He was known as a staunch opponent of Reconstruction on the grounds that you-know-whos were not fit to vote. But he became famous for the respectful eulogy he gave for Sen. Charles Sumner, who most Southerners still completely hated. The theme of reconciliation (with other white people, anyway) seems to have resonated with the public, and the resulting fame got him a Supreme Court appointment and, much later, a spot in JFK’s book Profiles in Courage, though it seems a little odd JFK’s ghost writer couldn’t find a better candidate than this guy.
Of his Supreme Court tenure, one source says this: “Though Lamar’s work on the court reflected high scholarly standards, it was not of major consequence.” I feel that spares me the need to research it.
So that is the tale of Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II, the most spectacularly named U.S. Supreme Court justice to date. If you want to learn more, here’s much more. But you probably don’t.
Terwilliger Jones (15%)
Him I just made up.
Or at least I thought I did—turns out there was a character by that name in the 1955 Bowery Boys movie “High Society,” but how these words might have gotten into my brain is a mystery to me.
Bushrod Washington (11%)
Bushrod (1762-1829) had been practicing law in Virginia for about 15 years when Uncle George nominated him to the Supreme Court on December 18, 1798. He was confirmed by the Senate just two days later, and his ass was on the bench by the first week of February 1799. He served for the next 30 years. Bushrod is known for, among other things, deciding Corfield v. Coryell (1823) in which he held that the Privileges and Immunities Clause did not guarantee the right of nonresidents to gather oysters and clams in New Jersey.
Felix Frankfurter (9%)
This guy (1882-1965) was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for Christ’s sake. His family emigrated to New York in 1894, and after various adventures, he graduated from Harvard Law School. Frankfurter worked in government, returned to Harvard as a professor, and helped found the ACLU in 1920. He was nominated to the Court by FDR in 1938, and his confirmation process was apparently the first time a nominee had appeared in person before the Judiciary Committee, something that of course is extremely common for you to not watch today.
Frankfurter served from 1939 until 1962, and is generally known as an advocate of judicial restraint although he was also a key figure in Brown v. Board of Education. He should not be known only for refusing to hire Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a law clerk just because she was a woman, but he did in fact do that.
Salmon Chase (9%)
Also named after food, Salmon Chase (1808-1873) was a governor, a senator, a presidential contender, and Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury before being appointed to the Court. As Treasury Secretary he notably introduced the nation’s first paper currency, which he also designed, and on which, coincidentally, his own face prominently appeared. Wikipedia says that Lincoln “surprised Chase by accepting his third offer of resignation” (apparently Chase threatened to resign a lot for political reasons), but then nominated him to be the new Chief Justice in 1864. Although somebody who designs currency with his own face on it seems like kind of a tool, Chase at least does not seem to have been a racist like LQCL2 or Chief Justice Taney, who he replaced. I infer this from the fact that one of the first things he did as Chief Justice was to admit the very first African-American (John Rock) to the bar of the Supreme Court, so good for him.
Chase also did not hire Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a law clerk, but in his defense, he was dead at the time.
Henry Brockholst Livingston (3%)
HBL (1757-1823) was an officer in the Revolutionary War and then a New York judge before being appointed to the Court by Thomas Jefferson in 1806. But he is probably most famous—well, let’s be honest, he isn’t famous—best-known for dissenting in Pierson v. Post (1805) a New York case that involved the issue of, and I’m being totally serious here, who owned a dead fox.
Post was chasing after a fox when, in a total dick move, Pierson came along, killed it, and took it for himself. The question of who owned that fox is one that law professors will torture you with early in law school, if you go, which is the only reason this case is at all “famous.” The majority held that just chasing something doesn’t give you a right to it—you have to control it first. HBL, on the other hand, thought pursuit should be sufficient because it would help encourage hunters to go after this “wild and noxious beast” called a fox:
[W]hat gentleman, at the sound of the horn, and at peep of day, would mount his steed, and for hours … pursue the windings of this wily quadruped, if, just as night came on, and his stratagems and strength were nearly exhausted, a saucy intruder, who had not shared in the honors or labors of the chase, were permitted to come in at the death, and bear away in triumph the object of pursuit?
Nobody likes a saucy intruder, but still.
Horace Lurton (2%)
Lurton (1844-1914) was 65 when first appointed to the Court, and is still the oldest person to receive that honor. Not that he is still there at the age of 168, of course, I just mean that so far no one older than 65 has been appointed to the Court. And because he was only there for four years and only got two percent of the vote, I won’t say any more about him.
Thanks for voting. Another stupid poll will appear soon.