Joseph McKenna

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Joseph McKenna
Justice McKenna.jpg
McKenna in his judicial robes
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
January 21, 1898 – January 5, 1925[1]
Nominated byWilliam McKinley
Preceded byStephen Field
Succeeded byHarlan Stone
42nd United States Attorney General
In office
March 5, 1897 – January 25, 1898
PresidentWilliam McKinley
Preceded byJudson Harmon
Succeeded byJohn Griggs
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In office
March 17, 1892 – March 5, 1897
Nominated byBenjamin Harrison
Preceded byLorenzo Sawyer
Succeeded byWilliam Morrow
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1885 – March 28, 1892
Preceded byBarclay Henley
Succeeded bySamuel Hilborn
Personal details
Born(1843-08-10)August 10, 1843
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedNovember 21, 1926(1926-11-21) (aged 83)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Amanda Borneman
EducationSaint Joseph's University
Columbia Law School

Joseph McKenna (August 10, 1843 – November 21, 1926) was an American politician who served in all three branches of the U.S. federal government, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, as U.S. Attorney General and as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. He is one of seventeen members of the House of Representatives who subsequently served on the Supreme Court (including two Chief Justices).[2]


McKenna as a younger man
McKenna's wife, Amanda Borneman

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Irish Catholic immigrants, he attended St. Joseph's College and the Collegiate Institute at Benicia, California. After being admitted to the California bar in 1865, he became District Attorney for Solano County and then campaigned for and won a seat in the California State Assembly for two years (1875–1877). He retired after one term and an unsuccessful bid for Speaker.[3]

After two unsuccessful attempts, McKenna was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1885 and served for four terms. He was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1892 by President Benjamin Harrison.[3]

In 1897 he was appointed the 42nd Attorney General of the United States by President William McKinley, and served in that capacity until 1898.[4] He was then appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States to succeed Justice Stephen J. Field. McKenna was named by President McKinley on January 28, 1898 and took his seat the next day. Conscious of his limited credentials, McKenna took courses at Columbia Law School for several months to improve his legal education before taking his seat on the Court.

Although he never developed a consistent legal philosophy, McKenna was the author of a number of important decisions. One of the most notable was his opinion in the case of United States v. U.S. Steel Corporation (1920) which held that antitrust cases would be decided on the "rule of reason" principle—only alleged monopolistic combinations that are in unreasonable restraint of trade—are illegal.[5]

He authored 614 majority opinions, and 146 dissenting opinions during his time on the bench. [Bush, Supreme Court Decisions] His passionate rebuttal to the denial of "pecuniary benefit" to a wife whose husband had been killed while working on the railroad was among those which brought a change to the Employer Liability Act. His most noteworthy opinions are Hipolite Egg Co. v. United States 220 U.S. 45 (1911),[6][7] in which a unanimous Court upheld the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906,

In Hoke v. United States, he concurred in upholding the Mann Act, a/k/a "White-Slave Traffic Act". However, four years later, he dissented from the Court's opinion in Caminetti v. United States (1917), which held the act applied to private, noncommercial enticements to cross state lines for purposes of a sexual liaison. According to McKenna, the Act regulated only commercial vice, i.e., "immoralities having a mercenary purpose." [8]

McKenna wrote Williams v. Mississippi, upholding the state's racist 1890 Constitution that disenfranchised nearly every African American in the state through poll taxes and literacy tests, while exempting whites through a grandfather clause.[9]

While McKenna was generally quite favorable to federal power, he joined the Court's substantive due process jurisprudence and voted with the majority in 1905's Lochner v. New York, which struck down a state maximum-hours law for bakery workers,[8] This decision carried broader implications for the scope of federal power, at least until the New Deal and the 1937 switch-in-time-that-saved-nine West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish. (See Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937.)

McKenna resigned from the Court in January 1925 at the suggestion of Chief Justice William Howard Taft.[10] McKenna's ability to perform his duties had been diminished significantly by a stroke suffered 10 years earlier, and by the end of his tenure McKenna could not be counted on to write coherent opinions.[10]

Justice McKenna was one of 15 Catholic justices (out of the 115 total through the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett) in the history of the Supreme Court.[11]

McKenna married Amanda Borneman in 1869, and the couple had three daughters and one son.[8] McKenna died on November 21, 1926.[8] in Washington, D.C.. His remains are interred at the city's Mount Olivet Cemetery.[12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: Joseph McKenna". 2009-12-11. Retrieved 2009-12-11.
  2. ^ "Members Who Also Served on the Supreme Court". Clerk of the House of Representatives. Archived from the original on November 13, 2017. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Joseph McKenna at Archived 2010-03-04 at the Wayback Machine Supreme Court Historical Society.
  4. ^ Department of Justice, Joseph McKenna Attorney General.
  5. ^ Joseph McKennat at infoplease.
  6. ^ Hipolite Egg Co. v. United States syllabus at
  7. ^ Hipolite Egg Co. v. United States full text opinion at
  8. ^ a b c d Ariens, Michael, Joseph McKenna at Archived 2010-07-14 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Serwer, Adam (2020-10-22). "Pack the Court, Save the Vote". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2020-10-22.
  10. ^ a b Appel, JM. Anticipating the Incapacitated Justice, August 22, 2009.
  11. ^ Religious affiliation of Supreme Court justices Justice Sherman Minton converted to Catholicism after his retirement.
  12. ^ "Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook". Archived from the original on September 3, 2005. Retrieved 2013-11-24. Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
  13. ^ See also, Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 – 41 (19 Feb 2008), University of Alabama.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

California Assembly
Preceded by
James Dixon
William H. Northcutt
W. S. M. Wright
Member of the California Assembly
from the 19th district

Served alongside: Thomas M. Swan
Succeeded by
John T. Dare
Richard C. Haile
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Barclay Henley
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Samuel Hilborn
Legal offices
Preceded by
Lorenzo Sawyer
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Succeeded by
William Morrow
Preceded by
Judson Harmon
United States Attorney General
Succeeded by
John Griggs
Preceded by
Stephen Field
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Harlan Stone