John Marshall Harlan

Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1877-d. 1911

John Marshall Harlan
John Marshall Harlan was a Supreme Court justice from 1877 to 1911. Harlan was born on June 1, 1833, in Boyle County, Kentucky to a prominent local family. His father James served in a variety of political positions, including as a United States Congressman from 1835 to 1839. His half-brother Robert Harlan was born into slavery and freed himself with support from his father at age 32, later becoming a prominent businessperson in Ohio. John Marshall graduated from Centre College in 1850 and then studied law at Transylvania University He soon became active in state politics and served in a variety of positions, including as the Attorney General of Kentucky from 1863 to 1868. In January 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes chose John Marshall Harlan to fill a vacancy on the Court. The United States Senate confirmed him unanimously on November 29, 1877. Harlan served on the bench until his death on October 14, 1911. He became known as "The Great Dissenter", for his forceful objections in the Civil Rights Cases (1883), in which the majority ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as unconstitutional and in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of the "separate but equal" doctrine for segregated facilities.


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Archival Materials

  • John Marshall Harlan miscellaneous papers, The Filson Club Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky.
  • John Marshall Harlan letters and autograph, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 
  • John M. Harlan papers, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, Kentucky.
  • John Marshall Harlan papers, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
  • John Marshall Harlan papers, University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, Louisville, Kentucky.