Horace Gray
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Horace Gray
Horace Gray
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

January 9, 1882[1] - September 15, 1902[1]
Chester Arthur
Nathan Clifford
Oliver Holmes
Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

September 5, 1873 - January 9, 1882
William Washburn
Reuben Chapman
Marcus Morton
Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

August 23, 1864 - September 5, 1873
John Andrew
Pliny Merrick
Charles Devens
Personal details
Born(1828-03-24)March 24, 1828
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Nahant, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Jane Matthews (m. 1889)
EducationHarvard University (BA, LLB)

Horace Gray (March 24, 1828 - September 15, 1902) was an American jurist who served on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and then on the United States Supreme Court, where he frequently interpreted the Constitution in ways that increased the powers of Congress. Noted for possessing a sharp mind and an enthusiasm for legal research, he was also a staunch supporter of the authority of precedent throughout his career.

Early life

Gray was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Horace and Harriet Upham Gray, and grandson of merchant and politician William Gray.[2] He enrolled at Harvard College at the age of 13, graduated four years later. After traveling in Europe for a time, Gray entered Harvard Law School, from which graduated with a LL.B. in 1849.[3] Gray was admitted to the bar in 1851, and practiced law in Boston for 13 years.[4]

Judicial career

Massachusetts state courts

In 1854, he was named Reporter of Decisions for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. While serving in this capacity, Gray edited sixteen volumes of court records, and also served as a counselor to the governor of Massachusetts on legal and constitutional questions. The quality of Gray's work earned him a reputation for historical scholarship and legal research.[4]

Gray was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court as an associate justice in 1864. At age 36, he was the youngest appointee in the Court's history. Nine years later he was elevated to chief justice.[4] While serving as chief justice, Gray hired Louis D. Brandeis as a clerk, becoming the first justice of that court to do so.[5]

United States Supreme Court

In December 1881, President Chester A. Arthur nominated Gray to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by the death of Nathan Clifford.[2] The United States Senate confirmed his appointment shortly thereafter, and on January 9, 1882 he officially joined the Court.[1]

As he had been in Massachusetts, Gray was also the first U.S. Supreme Court justice to hire a law clerk. He used his own funds to pay the clerk's salary, as no government money was appropriated for this purpose at the time.[6]

Gray was one of the few Supreme Court appointees in the latter half of the 19th century who had not previously been a politician, and he maintained the opinion that law and politics were entirely separate fields.

Two years after joining the Court, He wrote the majority opinion in Juilliard v. Greenman (1884), the last of the post-Civil War Legal Tender Cases, which reaffirmed that Congress did have the power to issue paper money as legal tender.[2] The 8-1 decision rested largely on prior court cases as well as an assessment of what the Framers of the Constitution intended to achieve (i.e. their original intent) through their grant of certain "Enumerated powers" to Congress in Article I, Section 8.

The most enduring of his written opinions is the one he authored in Mutual Life Insurance Co. of New York v. Hillmon (1892), which held that a declarant's out-of-court statement of his intention to do something or go somewhere in the future is admissible under the "state-of-mind" hearsay exception. "The letters in question were competent, not as narratives of facts communicated to [Walters] by others, nor yet as proof that he actually went away from Wichita, but as evidence that, shortly before the time when other evidence tended to show that he went away, he had the intention of going, and of going with Hillmon, which made it more probable both that he did go and that he went with Hillmon, than if there had been no proof of such intention." This holding was subsequently codified in Rule 803(3) of the Federal Rules of Evidence,[7] as well as the evidence laws in most states.

Gray was also the author of the 1898 case United States v. Wong Kim Ark, ruling that "a child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the Emperor of China, but have a permanent domicil and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the Emperor of China, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States." 169 U.S. 649;705.

He joined the majority in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. (1895), a 5-4 ruling that the unapportioned income taxes on interest, dividends and rents imposed by the Income Tax Act of 1894 were unconstitutional. This case was heard twice, though only the second hearing resulted in a decision; the justices, feeling that the opinions written had not adequately explained their view of the situation, wished to rehear the case. After the first hearing, Gray wrote that he sided with the defendant (Farmer's Loan & Trust), arguing that the tax was indeed constitutional. He was in the minority, however. After the second hearing, Gray changed his stance, joining with the majority in favor of the plaintiff. He also sided with the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), a 7-1 ruling that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality.

Gray served on the US Supreme Court for over 20 years, resigning in July, 1902, gravely ill. He was succeeded by a fellow Massachusetts native, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who, like Gray, previously served on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.[2]

Personal life

Horace Gray circa 1850

He was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1860,[8] and in 1866, was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[9]

In 1889, Gray married Jane Matthews (1860-1949), daughter of fellow associate justice Stanley Matthews.[2]

Gray's half-brother, John Chipman Gray, was long-time professor at Harvard Law School, and is noted for his formative text on the rule against perpetuities.[10]

He is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.[11]

His home in Washington, D.C. later became the site of the Third Church of Christ, Scientist.[12]


  1. ^ a b c "Justices 1789 to Present". supremecourt.gov. Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hall, Timothy L. (2001). Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New Yok, New York: Facts on File. pp. 186-189. ISBN 978-0-8160-4194-7. Retrieved 2018.
  3. ^ "Quinquennial catalogue of the officers and students of the Law School of Harvard University 1817-1889". Digitized August 8, 2012 by Google Books. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Law School. 1890. p. 43. Retrieved 2018.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ a b c "Horace Gray, 1882-1902". supremecourthistory.org. Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved 2018.
  5. ^ Peppers, Todd C. (2006). Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk. Stanford University Press. pp. 44-45. ISBN 978-0-8047-5382-1.
  6. ^ Gur-Arie, Mira (November 22-26, 2004). "Legal and Court Staff in the United States Judiciary: Seminar on the Management of the Assistant Personnel to Judges (Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, China)" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved 2018.
  7. ^ "Federal Rules of Evidence: Rule 803. Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay". law.cornell.edu. Ithaca, New York: Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School. Retrieved 2018.
  8. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  9. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter G" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011.
  10. ^ Thayer, Ezra Ripley; Williston, Samuel; Beale, Joseph H. (April 1915). "John Chipman Gray". Harvard Law Review. 28 (6): 539-549. JSTOR 1326405.
  11. ^ "Horace Gray". findagrave.com. Retrieved 2018.
  12. ^ "Then and Now: Northwest Corner of 16th and I Streets, NW". Washington Kaleidoscope: past, present, and culture. Retrieved 2018.

Further reading

  • Spector, Robert M. (1968). "Legal Historian on the United States Supreme Court: Justice Horace Gray, Jr., and the Historical Method". American Journal of Legal History. Temple University. 12 (3): 181-210. doi:10.2307/844125. JSTOR 844125.
  • Koslosky, Daniel Ryan, "Ghosts of Horace Gray: Customary International Law as Expectation in Human Rights Litigation" 97 Kentucky Law Journal 615 (2009)
Legal offices
Preceded by
Pliny Merrick
Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Succeeded by
Charles Devens
Preceded by
Reuben Chapman
Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Succeeded by
Marcus Morton
Preceded by
Nathan Clifford
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Oliver Holmes

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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