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James Alger Fee


James Alger Fee

James Alger Fee
Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Oregon
In office
March 18, 1931 – April 30, 1954
Nominated by Herbert Hoover
Preceded by Robert S. Bean
Succeeded by William G. East
Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In office
April 30, 1954 – August 25, 1959
Nominated by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded by Clifton Mathews
Succeeded by Montgomery Oliver Koelsch
Personal details
Born (1888-09-24)September 24, 1888
Pendleton, Oregon
Died August 25, 1959(1959-08-25) (aged 70)
Spouse(s) Alice Emma Tomkins

James Alger Fee (September 24, 1888 – August 25, 1959) was a United States federal judge from Oregon. He served as a federal district court judge in Portland, Oregon, and as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the 1950s. A veteran of the United States Army, his first judicial position was with the Oregon Circuit Court. While a federal judge he made national news for his decision during World War II regarding the application of the exclusion orders that had forced those of Japanese heritage from the West Coast.

Early life

James Alger was born in Eastern Oregon in the city of Pendleton on September 24, 1888.[1] He went to college in Walla Walla, Washington, at Whitman College.[1] There he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1910[1] and was a member of the Gamma Zeta Chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.[2] He then moved to New York City and earned a master’s degree at Columbia University.[3] After this Fee went on to law school at Columbia’s law school, graduating in 1914 with a Bachelor of Laws degree.[1]

Legal career

Fee returned to Oregon where he passed the bar in 1914,[3] and entered private practice in his hometown of Pendleton.[1] In 1916, he began serving as that city’s attorney, staying until 1917 when he joined the Army’s Air Corps as a lieutenant.[1] Fee remained with the United States Army until 1919 when moved to the United States War Department as a member of the legal staff.[1] In 1920, he left the War Department and returned to Pendleton and private practice.[1]

In 1927, Fee left private practice to start a judicial career, serving as on the Oregon Circuit Court from 1927 to 1931.[1] On March 18, 1931, President Herbert Hoover appointed Fee to Oregon’s federal district court to replace Robert S. Bean who had died in office.[1] This was a recess appointment, with Fee starting immediately, but he was later confirmed by the United States Senate on December 22, 1931, with him receiving his commission the following day.[1] Beginning in 1948 through April 30, 1954, he served as the court’s chief judge, leaving that position when he left the court.[1]

During his over twenty years on the district court he ruled on a variety of topics. In United States v. Earnest F. Cramer and E. R. Cramer, Fee ruled that Native Americans through treaties they signed in the 19th century had superior fishing rights over non-Native Americans at places such as Celilo Falls.[4] In 1952, Fee decided two cases concerning the 1948 flood of Vanport, Oregon.[5] He ruled that the government was not liable for the damage caused to the residents’ property.[6]

Some other cases included a labor dispute involving Montgomery Ward,[7] holding the Methodist Episcopal Church legally obligated to pay bondholders on defaulted bonds they issued to build a hospital,[8] and even refused to appoint a commissioner for Crater Lake National Park.[9] He also ruled on the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, presided over a case in Pennsylvania,[10] and signed off on the condemnation of the water company serving Salem, Oregon, as that city took over the water supply.[11]

On April 6, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Fee to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[1] The Senate confirmed him on April 23, and he received his commission on April 30, replacing Clifton Mathews on the court.[1] Fee moved to San Francisco, California where the court’s main office is located, where he served until his death.[1] In 1957, he wrote the opinion in Bartholomae Corp. v. United States, 253 F.2d 716 (9th Cir. 1957), that refused to hold the federal government liable for damages related to nuclear bomb testing in 1951.[12]

Japanese internment

On June 12, 1942, as district court judge Fee began presiding over the trial of Minoru Yasui, a native Oregonian of Japanese descent who was on trial for breaking curfew.[13] The curfew had been imposed by the United States Army’s General John L. DeWitt under the authority of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that began the Japanese American internment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.[13] The curfew only applied to those of Japanese heritage, with Yasui being the first person to be arrested for violating the curfew. This case would make it all the way to the United States Supreme Court.[13] The decision to take this trial to the Supreme Court made national news.[14]

Yasui was an attorney who was a U.S. Army reservist and, until the start of the war, worked for the Japanese consulate in Chicago, Illinois.[15] The trial was held at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland where Yasui had broken the curfew.[16] Fee determined in his ruling for the case that the curfew could only apply to aliens, as martial law had not been declared.[16] However, he also ruled that because Yasui had worked for the Japanese government that he had forfeited his citizenship so that the curfew did apply to him.[13][15][17] Fee sentenced Yasui to 1 year in jail, served at the Multnomah County Jail. Meanwhile, his case went on appeal until reaching the Supreme Court of the United States as Yasui v. United States, (320 U.S. 115) with that court determining the opposite of Fee, that Yasui was a citizen, but the curfew did apply to citizens.[13][18] After the Supreme Court returned the case to Fee for re-evaluation, he affirmed the conviction on the grounds the Supreme Court had determined.[18]

Family and later life

Fee’s father was also a judge in Oregon.[19] He was a partner in Fee & Slater.[20] On December 22, 1943, James Fee married Alice Emma Tomkins.[21] She was born in Cascade Locks, Oregon on September 11, 1897, and died on September 21, 1995.[22] They did not have any children.[22] James Alger Fee died on August 25, 1959.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Judges of the United States: James Alger Fee. Federal Judicial Center. Accessed November 15, 2007.
  2. ^ Beta Theta Pi, Wm. Raimond Baird, and James Taylor Brown. 1905. Catalogue of Beta Theta Pi. p. 919.
  3. ^ a b Fifield, James Clark. 1918. The American Bar. Minneapolis, Minn: J.C. Fifield Co.
  4. ^ Barber, Katrine. 2005. Death of Celilo Falls. The Emil and Kathleen Sick lecture-book series in western history and biography. Seattle: Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest in association with University of Washington Press. p. 59.
  5. ^ Taylor, George H. and Raymond R. Hatton. The Oregon Weather Book: A State of Extremes. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press. 1999.
  6. ^ Clark v. United States, 109 F. Supp. 213 (1952); Clark v. United States, 13 F.R.D. 342 (1952).
  7. ^ Montgomery Ward and Co. vs. Northern Pacific Terminal Co. of Oregon, et al. Files, 1940. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives: Cornell University Library. Retrieved on November 18, 2007.
  8. ^ Defaulting Methodists. Time, Monday, December 16, 1935.
  9. ^ Administration Of Crater Lake National Park: 1916-Present. National Park Service. Retrieved on November 18, 2007.
  10. ^ United States v. Johnson, 76 F. Supp. 538, 539 (D. Pa. 1947).
  11. ^ Mauldin, Frank. 2004. Sweet Mountain Water the Story of Salem, Oregon's Struggle to Tap Mt. Jefferson Water and Protect the North Santiam River. Salem history series. Salem, Or: Oak Savanna Pub.
  12. ^ Young, James Van. 1979. Judges and science the case law on atomic energy. Energy in the American economy. New York: Arno Press.
  13. ^ a b c d e Irons, Peter H. 1983. Justice at War. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 135-7.
  14. ^ Medal for Moving. Time, Monday, November 30, 1942.
  15. ^ a b Daniels, Roger. The Japanese American Cases, 1942-2004: A Social History.
  16. ^ a b Tateishi, John. 1984. And Justice for all: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps. New York: Random House. p. 78-80
  17. ^ United States v. Yasui, 48 F. Supp. 40, 44 (D. Or. 1942)
  18. ^ a b United States v. Minoru Yasui, 51 F. Supp. 234, 235 (D. Or. 1943).
  19. ^ Garland, David. 2001. Mass Imprisonment Social Causes and Consequences. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE.
  20. ^ Elliott v. Wallowa County, 57 Or. 236, 109 P. 130 (1910).
  21. ^ Descendants of Abram Dillow. Retrieved on November 18, 2007.
  22. ^ a b Alice Tompkins Fee. The Oregonian, October 3, 1995.
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