Henry Billings Brown

Henry Billings Brown

Infobox Judge
name = Henry Billings Brown

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office = Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
termstart = January 5 1891
termend = May 28 1906
nominator = Benjamin Harrison
appointer =
predecessor = Samuel Freeman Miller
successor = William Henry Moody
office2 =
termstart2 =
termend2 =
nominator2 =
appointer2 =
predecessor2 =
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birthdate = birth date|1836|3|2|mf=y
birthplace = Lee, Massachusetts, U.S.
deathdate = death date and age|1913|9|4|1836|3|2|mf=y
deathplace = Bronxville, New York, U.S.
spouse =

Henry Billings Brown (born South Lee, Massachusetts, March 2, 1836; died Bronxville, New York, September 4, 1913) was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from January 5, 1891 to May 28, 1906. He is perhaps best known today as the author of the opinion for the Court in "Plessy v. Ferguson", the famous decision that upheld the legality of racial segregation in public transportation.

Life and work

Brown grew up in a New England merchant's family. He graduated from Yale in 1856, and received some formal legal training both at Yale and at Harvard, although he did not earn a law degree. His early law practice was in Detroit, where he specialized in admiralty law (i.e., shipping law on the Great Lakes). Brown hired a substitute to take his place in the Union Army during the Civil War. He served as U.S. Attorney and in 1875 was appointed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Brown edited a collection of rulings and orders in important admiralty cases from inland waters, [cite book |last= Brown |first= Henry Billings |title= Reports of admiralty and revenue cases argued and determined in the circuit and district courts of the United States for the western lake and river districts [1856-1875] |origdate= 1876 |publisher= Baker, Voorhis & Co |location= New York ] which is still used as a reference in "Black's Law Dictionary." He also compiled a case book on admiralty law for his lectures at Georgetown University. [cite book |last= Brown |first= Henry Billings |title= Cases on the law of admiralty |origdate= 1896 |publisher= West Publishing Co |location= St. Paul ] He was a Republican prior to joining the court, but was not known for excessive partisanship. President Benjamin Harrison appointed Brown to the U.S. Supreme Court on December 23, 1890.

Brown was generally unwilling to allow government intervention in business, and concurred with the majority opinion in "Lochner v. New York" striking down a limitation on maximum working hours. He did, however, support the federal income tax in "Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co." (1895). Brown left diaries written from his college days until his appointment as a federal judge in 1875. They can be found in the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. His diaries suggest that Brown was personally likable (but ambitious), depressed and often full of doubt about himself. Near the end of his years on the Court he largely lost his eyesight. He died of heart failure. Brown is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.

In 1864, Brown married Caroline Pitts, the daughter of a wealthy Detroit lumberman; they had no children.

In 1891, he paid $25,000 for land at 1720 16th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C., to the Riggs family, cite news | last = Hales | first = Linda | coauthors = | title = The Many-Storied Toutorsky Mansion;Historic 16th-Street Music School Opens for a 'Bare Bones' Preview| work = | pages = T9| language = | publisher = Washington Post| date = 1992-08-13| url = | accessdate = ] hired architect William Henry Miller, and built a five-story, 18-room mansion for $40,000.cite web| url=http://www.toutorsky.com/ | title=Toutorsky Mansion: History | accessdate=2008-09-27 ]

Caroline died in 1901; three years later, Brown married a close friend of hers, the widow Josephine E. Tyler.

Brown lived in his 16th Street house, today known as the Toutorsky Mansion, until his death in 1913.


*"Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States"
*Professor Robert J. Glennon, Jr., at 44 "Colo. L. Rev." 553 (1973)

External links

* [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAbrownHB.htm Spartacus website on Henry Billings Brown]
* [http://www.vis.org/candlist/Candidates.aspx?pid=399 2006 South Carolina CD 1 Candidate List from VIS]

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