John F. Davis

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For other people named John Davis, see John Davis (disambiguation).
John F. Davis
Born (1907-07-11)July 11, 1907
Maine, USA
Died July 18, 2000(2000-07-18) (aged 93)
Nationality American
Education Law degree
Alma mater Harvard Law School
Occupation Lawyer, law professor
Employer Securities and Exchange Commission, United States Department of the Interior, United States Coast Guard, Supreme Court of the United States, Georgetown University, University of Maryland School of Law.
Known for Defence attorney of Alger Hiss
Term Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States
Predecessor James R. Browning
Successor E. Robert Seaver
Spouse(s) Valre (?-1978), Jane Mason Davis

John F. Davis (July 11, 1907 – July 18, 2000) was an American lawyer and law professor whose career included ten years of service as Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Early life[edit]

A native of Maine, Davis attended Bates College, graduating in 1928, and Harvard Law School, from which he obtained his law degree in 1932.[1]

Prior to World War II, Davis spent several years as a government attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Department of the Interior. During the war, he worked as counsel for the United States Coast Guard.


As a lawyer[edit]

Following World War II, Davis spent several years as a lawyer in private practice in Washington, D.C.. He is best remembered as one of the defense attorneys who represented accused Soviet espionage agent Alger Hiss before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1948 and at Hiss's two 1949-50 trials for perjury in the Southern District of New York.

During the 1950s, as an assistant Solicitor General in the U.S. Department of Justice, Davis argued more than 50 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including the government's antitrust case against the DuPont Company.

As Clerk of the Supreme Court[edit]

In 1961, Davis was appointed Clerk of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, succeeding James R. Browning, who had been appointed to a federal judgeship by President Kennedy. As Clerk, Davis was responsible for maintaining the Court's docket and files. He also administered the oath of office to several new Justices, including Thurgood Marshall, the Court's first African American member, and Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.

Davis served as Clerk of the Supreme Court until 1970, when he returned to private practice in Washington, also serving during the 1970s as a Special Master for the Supreme Court in two cases within the Court's original jurisdiction and co-authoring a law review article on the precedential effect of Supreme Court opinions approved by only a plurality (as opposed to a majority) of the Justices.

As a law professor[edit]

Davis also taught during the 1970s as a law professor at Georgetown University and later at the University of Maryland School of Law. He retired from the latter position in 1988.


Davis died in 2000 leaving his survivors: Jane Mason Davis, son Marcus and daughter Susan, stepchildren Clint and Timothy Keeney Jr., five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Recent Passings - John F. Davis". Bates Magazine. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  • Statement on Davis's retirement as Clerk by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, 398 U.S. vii (1970).
  • Oscar H. Davis et al., "Tributes to Professor John F. Davis", 47 Md. L. Rev. 613 (Spring 1988).