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John Marshall Harlan Edit Profile


American lawyer and associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.


John's father served as the reform-minded mayor, and was named for his grandfather, the Supreme Court justice.


He was educated at private schools.

Also he attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He then earned a degree from New York Law School and joined one of Wall Street's most prominent law firms, Root, Clark, Buckner & Howlands.


Except for a brief period, Harlan made his living and formidable reputation as a trial lawyer for private, and mostly wealthy, clients. Throughout his career, however, Harlan remained aloof from the cause he represented, except in the courtroom. There he left no argument untouched, no judicial precedent unstudied.

During World War II, Harlan turned his great energy and intellect to the Allied military effort, heading the section of the Eighth Army that was responsible for bombing operations in Europe. He became a colonel and won the Legion of Merit from the U.S. government and the Croix de Guerre from the French. After the war Harlan returned to the practice of law with his old firm, but took off eight months in 1951 to serve as chief counsel for Governor Thomas E. Dewey's New York State Crime Commission. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Harlan, a Republican, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Nine months later, in 1955, Eisenhower elevated Harlan to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Harlan's Court opinions, no theme was more important nor more frequently articulated than his belief that it was sheer arrogance for nine justices to attempt to correct every wrong in a tripartite federal system. Harlan dissented from many of the sweeping decisions of the Warren Court, such as the one person, one vote ruling in Reynolds v. Sims. "The Constitution is not a panacea for every blot upon the public welfare," Harlan wrote, "nor should this Court, ordained as a judicial body, be thought of as a general haven for reform movements." However, other opinions of his suggested a belief that the Court should act when the Constitution commanded it to. Thus, Harlan wrote opinions establishing, for the first time, freedom of private association as a fully guaranteed right (NAACP v. Alabama), ruling for the Court that indigent women have the right to sue for divorce at state expense (Boddie v. Connecticut), and concluding that the First Amendment's free speech provision is broad enough to protect a man wearing a jacket, embroidered with a common obscenity, in public (Cohen v. California). Most of all, Harlan's opinions will be remembered as models of judicial craftsmanship. Harlan resigned from the Court Sept. 23, 1971


John Harlan