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Robert C. Grier

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Robert C. Grier

Robert Cooper Grier
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office
August 4, 1846[1] – January 31, 1870
Nominated by James K. Polk
Preceded by Henry Baldwin
Succeeded by William Strong
Personal details
Born (1794-03-05)March 5, 1794
Cumberland County, Pennsylvania
Died September 25, 1870(1870-09-25) (aged 76)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Political party Jacksonian, Democratic
Religion Presbyterian

Robert Cooper Grier (March 5, 1794 – September 25, 1870), was an American jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Early life, education, and career

Grier was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania to a Presbyterian minister, who tutored him until he entered Dickinson College. Grier graduated from Dickinson in only one year, receiving a B.A. in 1812, and remained there as an instructor until taking a position at a school his father ran. He succeeded his father as headmaster in 1815.

While a teacher, Grier read law on his own time, and passed the bar in 1817, at which time he entered private practice in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania until 1818, and then in Danville, Pennsylvania until 1833. Grier married Isabelle Rose in 1829 and the couple had one child.

Grier was a political organizer for the Jacksonians in the Democrats. In 1833 Grier was rewarded with a patronage appointment to a judgeship on the Pennsylvania state District Court for Allegheny County, newly created for him. He served there for 13 years, developing a reputation for competence.

Federal judicial service

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin died in 1844 during the administration of President Tyler. Tyler made two attempted appointments to the seat, Edward King and John M. Read, but both were rejected, and the seats were open when James K. Polk became president in March, 1845. Polk also made two nominations, one of whom refused the appointment, future President James Buchanan, and one of whom was not confirmed by the Senate, George Washington Woodward. Polk finally nominated Grier on August 3, 1846, plucking him from relative obscurity. Grier was unanimously approved by the Senate on August 4, 1846, and received his commission the same day, joining a fellow Dickinson alumnus, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, on the Court.

In 1854, the United States House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee conducted an investigation of Grier's conduct in connection with a case then pending before the United States Supreme Court, Pennsylvania v. Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company.[2] It was alleged that Grier solicited a bribe in order to rule in favor of one of the parties, that he ignored the law in making his ruling, and that he leaked the decision of the Court early in order to favor one of the parties (who was considering dismissal of the case).[3] Ultimately, the House Judiciary Committee issued a report dismissing the allegations leveled against Grier, stating that Grier "is entirely and absolutely exonerated and freed from the charges preferred against him. There is absolutely nothing which can or will impair his reputation as a judge or an upright and honest man."[4] Nonetheless, the Committee's report is intriguing because it was authored by Hendrick B. Wright, who was from an area in Pennsylvania near where Grier was from, and was probably biased in the justice's favor.[5] Based on the known history, it is unclear whether Grier was guilty of the allegations leveled against him.

Three years later, Grier was one of two Northerners to side with the majority in the controversial Dred Scott decision, which denied civil rights to slaves and threatened to open the entire nation to slavery. Some critics suspected Grier of co-ordinating his actions with his distant cousin Alexander H. Stephens, a U.S. congressman from Georgia who was a strong apologist for slavery and would later become vice president of the Confederacy. But Stephens biographer Thomas E. Schott says this is unlikely since the two men were not close. In connection with the case, it is known that Grier leaked the decision of the case early to President James Buchanan, who would allude to the outcome of the case in his inaugural address in 1857.[6]

Grier wrote the opinion on the Prize Cases, which declared Lincoln's blockade of Southern ports constitutional. He served on the court until 1870, at which point he was quite frail, having suffered three strokes in 1867. His participation on the court was extremely limited by the end of his term, and he retired only after his colleagues pressed him to do so, ending his service on the bench on January 31, 1870. He died less than a year later, in Philadelphia. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

Further reading

  • Wisniewski, Daniel J., "Heating Up a Case Gone Cold: Revisiting the Charges of Bribery and Official Misconduct Made Against Supreme Court Justice Robert Cooper Grier in 1854-55," in Journal of Supreme Court History (Supreme Court Historical Society: 2013) Volume 38, No. 1, pp. 1-19.
  • Gatell, Frank Otto, "Robert C. Grier," in Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel, eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Volume: 2 (1997) pp 435–45.


Data drawn in part from the Oyez.

  • Federal Judicial Center.

External links

  • Biography-West Laurel Hill Cemetery web site
Legal offices
Preceded by
Henry Baldwin
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
August 4, 1846 – January 31, 1870
Succeeded by
William Strong

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