Marshall F. McComb

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California Supreme Court Justice Marshall F. McComb (right), Chaplain of the Senate of California Rev. Wilbur Wong Yan Choy (centre) swearing in Ronald Reagan (left) as Governor of California

Marshall F. McComb (May 6, 1894 – September 5, 1981) was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California from 1955 to 1977.[1]


Education and early career[edit]

Born in Denver, Colorado, McComb earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University (1917), Bachelor of Laws degree from Yale Law School (1919), and Doctor of Laws degree from Loyola Law School (1936).[1] He was admitted to the California Bar in February 1920, then was a Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles from 1920 to 1927.[1]

In 1927, California Governor C. C. Young appointed McComb a Judge of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, where he served until 1937 when Governor Frank Merriam elevated him to the California Court of Appeal for the Second District as an Associate Justice in Division Two, where he served from 1937 to 1955.[1]

California Supreme Court[edit]

In 1955, Governor Goodwin Knight nominated McComb for the Supreme Court of California as an Associate Justice, where he served from 1956 to 1977.[1] For much of his career there, McComb formed the core of its conservative wing and often dissented from the liberal majority's opinions.[2] In 1967, McComb swore in Ronald Reagan to the latter's first term as Governor of California.[3]

In 1968, McComb joined the dissenting opinion of Justice Louis H. Burke in Dillon v. Legg, in which the Court's majority established the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress; Burke and McComb argued that the majority ruling opened up defendants to "potentially infinite liability beyond any rational relationship to their culpability."[4]

In the 1972 case California v. Anderson, in which the majority ruled 6–1 that the death penalty was unconstitutional, McComb was the lone dissenter, arguing that the death penalty deterred crime, noting numerous Supreme precedents upholding the death penalty's constitutionality (including 11 in the prior three and a half years), and stating that the legislative and initiative processes were the only appropriate avenues to determine whether the death penalty should be allowed.[5] The majority's decision spared the lives of 105 death row inmates, including Sirhan Sirhan, assassin of Robert F. Kennedy, and serial killer Charles Manson.[6] McComb was so upset about the Anderson decision that he walked out of the courtroom.[7] Nine months later, the people of California would pass Proposition 17 by a 2–1 margin, reinstating the death penalty as an option for all prosecutions that took place after the adoption of Proposition 17.[8]

In 1976, McComb joined Justice William P. Clark, Jr.'s dissenting opinion in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, as McComb and Clark argued that doctor-patient confidentiality was "essential to effectively treat the mentally ill, and that imposing a duty on doctors to disclose patient threats to potential victims would greatly impair treatment" while the majority held that mental health professionals have a duty to protect individuals who are being threatened with bodily harm by a patient.[9]

McComb did join the 1976 court majority in Marvin v. Marvin, in which the court ruled that although California does not recognize common-law marriage, people who cohabitate for long periods of time and commingle their assets are allowed to plead and prove marriage-like contracts for support and division of property.[10]

McComb's distinguished judicial career had a rather sad end. On May 2, 1977, a panel of Court of Appeal justices, sitting as an acting Supreme Court, forced McComb into retirement by affirming a state Commission on Judicial Performance decision that McComb had senile dementia and was no longer able to carry out his judicial duties.[11]

Personal[edit]

In 1981, McComb died in Los Angeles.[1] His widow, Margaret G. McComb, would live for another 22 years, dying on November 4, 2003.[12] In 2005, the McComb Foundation established the Justice Marshall F. McComb Professorship at Southwestern Law School.[13]

References[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Douglas L. Edmonds
Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court
January 1956 – May 1977
Succeeded by
Frank C. Newman
Preceded by
Gavin W. Craig
Associate Justice of the
California Court of Appeal
Second District, Division Two

March 13, 1937 – December 31, 1955
Succeeded by
Allen W. Ashburn