James Crawford Biggs
James Crawford Biggs was an American lawyer and polician, born in Oxford, North Carolina, on August 29, 1872, to William and Elizabeth Arlington (Cooper) Biggs.
Biggs was a student at the Horner Military School in Oxford from 1883-1887 before attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of North Carolina (UNC) in 1893 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy. He was a member of Zeta Psi Fraternity as well as the scholastic honors fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa. Biggs studied law at UNC Law School from 1893–1894 and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1894. He began a law practice in his hometown of Oxford, while teaching simultaneously as a professor at UNC (1898–1900) and Trinity Law School (1911–1912), in Durham, NC. From 1894-1898, Biggs also served as an adjutant in the North Carolina state guard.
Biggs was elected to serve two terms as the mayor of Oxford in 1897 and 1898. He served as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives from Durham County in 1905. He continued his ascendency in the North Carolina legal system, serving as a state supreme court reporter (1905–1907), and then as a judge in the Superior Court of North Carolina, from 1907-1911. He resigned from this position in 1911 in order to resume private law practice in Raleigh, NC. From 1917-1918, Biggs was given an opportunity to litigate on the federal level when he was chosen to be a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General in charge of oil litigation against the Southern Pacific Railroad in California.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Biggs Solicitor General in May 1933, at the start of the New Deal. Biggs was well out of his depth in his new position, and lost 10 of the 17 cases he argued in his first five months in office. By the end of his' first term, Justice Stone commented that "Biggs was not fit to argue a cow case before a justice of the peace, unless the cow was fatally sick." According to former Solicitor General Seth Waxman, "[t]he Justices informally sent word to [President] Roosevelt that Biggs should not be permitted to argue any case the United States hoped to win. Attorney General Homer Cummings stepped in to ensure that important cases would be handled by attorneys outside the Solicitor General's office. Thus, even before the first New Deal case was argued in the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General -- the person whose principal responsibility it is to represent the interests of the United States -- was out. By the time a more capable successor took office, the New Deal was in deep legal trouble." (Cummings and Assistant Solicitor General Angus D. MacLean argued the Gold Clause Cases, which eventually marked some of the first successes for New Deal economic policies.) Biggs resigned on March 14, 1935. His successor (and future Supreme Court Justice) Stanley Reed was named his replacement on March 18 and confirmed by the Senate on March 25. Reed immediately set about dismissing several cert petitions filed by the government (e.g., Belcher v. United States) because the cases were poorly postured to result in opinions upholding the New Deal.
Biggs returned to private practice in Raleigh in March 1935. Soon afterward, the government called upon Biggs for his expertise to assist the attorney general in the Northern Pacific Land Grant Case. He also served as chairman on the North Carolina Board of Elections, trustee of the UNC Methodist Orphanage, president of the North Carolina Bar Association from 1914–1915, and a member of the executive committee and counsel of the American Red Cross, 1933-1935.
He was married to Margie Jordan for 53 years, with whom he had one daughter, Marjorie. James Biggs died on January 30, 1960, at his home in Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Warner M. Gardner, Pebbles from the Path Behind, p.63 n.1 (1989).
- Seth Waxman, The Physics of Persuasion: Arguing the New Deal, 2:5 Yale Law School Occasional Papers (1999)
Thomas D. Thacher
Stanley Forman Reed