Alexander Rives

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Alexander Rives
Judge Alexander Rives
Judge of Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals
In office
Judge of United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia
In office
Nominated by Ulysses S. Grant
Succeeded by John Paul
Personal details
Born June 17, 1806
Nelson County, Virginia
Died September 17, 1885
Charlottesville, Virginia

Alexander Rives (June 17, 1806 – September 17, 1885) was a Virginia lawyer, politician, and federal judge.

Family and politics[edit]

Rives was born in Nelson County, Virginia. He attended Hampden-Sydney College from 1821 to 1825 when he graduated; and the University of Virginia, graduating in 1828. He was admitted to the bar and began private practice. He was a member of the state convention of 1850–51; of the House of Delegates in 1852–53; and of the Virginia State Senate in 1859–61.

He was the son of Margaret J. Cabell and Robert Rives. Three of his brothers—Robert, Jr., George, and William Cabell Rives—also served in the General Assembly. Rives was the uncle of Edward A. Pollard, who edited the Richmond Examiner along with Robert William Hughes. Rives was the great-uncle of Alexander Brown, author of several books on the early history of Virginia and of The Cabells and their Kin (1895).[1]

Politically, Rives like his brother William was a Democrat until 1840, then a Conservative, then a Whig, then a Republican. He opposed the secession of Virginia.

Rives married Isabella Bachem Wydown in 1829, and they had ten children before she died in 1861. His second marriage, to Sally Kearsley Watson, was childless.

Rives served as the ninth Rector of the University of Virginia from 1865 to 1866.

On December 19, 1866, he was elected as a judge on the Supreme Court of Appeals and remained on the court until 1869, when he was not re-elected.

In 1870, Rives ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, losing to Richard Thomas Walker Duke. Duke's son recalled of this campaign that Rives "had 'ratted' and became a 'scalawag' republican," who obtained a pardon for his opponent Duke, to remove Duke's disability from seeking office, without charging Rives's usual fee of up to $500.[2]


In 1871, Rives was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant as judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. Prior to Rives, the last Western District judges were John White Brockenbrough, who resigned to join the Confederacy, and John Jay Jackson, Jr., who served the counties that became West Virginia and remained in the Union during the War. There was no Western District of Virginia from 1864 until 1871, when Congress re-established the Western District. During that period, the only federal judge for sole Virginia district was John Curtiss Underwood.

In 1878, Judge Rives took the controversial view that the exclusion of blacks from jury service in Virginia state courts was a violation of the Equal Protection rights of two criminal defendants, granting their petitions for habeas corpus relief.[3] The Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution denouncing the Reynolds decision, and demanding an appeal.[4] The Supreme Court agreed in principle with Rives, in Strauder v. West Virginia, but overruled his decision, ordering him to return jurisdiction over the petitioners to the Commonwealth.[5] Over 100 years later, the Supreme Court ruled that even the use of peremptory challenges where exclusion was made on the basis of race was unconstitutional, in the Batson case.

Judge Rives retired on August 1, 1882. He was replaced on the Western District bench by Judge John Paul.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "The Cabells and Their Kin By Alexander Brown (1843-1906)". UVa Special Collections Library. Retrieved August 20, 2008. 
  2. ^ "Richard Thomas Walker Duke, Jr.: Recollections of My Early Life". UVa Special Collections Library. Retrieved October 15, 2007. 
  3. ^ Ex parte Reynolds, 20 F.Cas. 586 (C.C.Va. 1878).
  4. ^ "VIRGINIA DEMANDS PROTECTION" (PDF). The New York Times, January 18, 1879. January 18, 1879. Retrieved February 17, 2008. 
  5. ^ Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313 (1879).

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia
Succeeded by
John Paul, Sr.