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Rufus W. Peckham

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From the personal collection of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark


Peckham asks the Supreme Court Marshall to give "two ladies" reserved seats

Rufus Wheeler Peckham, 18381909.  Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court, 18951909.  Autograph Note Signed, R. W. Peckham, one page, 4" x 6", on memorandum stationery of the Supreme Court of the United States, no place [Washington, D.C.], no date.

In this short pencilled note, Justice Peckham asks the Supreme Court Marshal to “Please admit two ladies to the reserved seats for court . . . ."

Peckhamʼs appointment came at the end of a tug of war between President Grover Cleveland and New York Senator David B. Hill.  Cleveland initially nominated Peckhamʼs older brother, Wheeler Hazard Peckham, to succeed deceased Justice Samuel Blatchford in 1893.  But the nomination drew fire from Hill, who opposed it because of Wheeler Peckhamʼs campaign against a New York machine politician.  The Senate defeated the nomination by a 41–32 vote.  Cleveland then appointed Senator Edward Douglass White of Louisiana, who later became Chief Justice.  When Justice Howell E. Jackson died in 1895, Cleveland turned to Rufus W. Peckham, a New York Democrat and a member of the New York Court of Appeals, the stateʼs highest court.  By then Hillʼs influence had waned, and the Senate easily confirmed the appointment.

Although he was a Democrat, Peckham had strong ties to business giants J. Pierpont Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller, and those relationships likely colored hiss pro-business views.  Peckham accepted the laissez-faire economics that gave rise to the doctrine of substantive due process under which the Supreme Court, citing freedom of contract, routinely invalidated labor regulation under the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause.  Peckham wrote the Courtʼs opinion in Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905), which struck down a New York law limiting the number of hours that bakers could work per day and per week.  Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., dissented, arguing that the "Fourteenth Amendment does not embody Mr. Herbert Spencerʼs Social Statics.  Lochner gave its name to an era that stymied progressive legislation for more than 30 years.  It was finally discredited in 1937, during the later days of the Great Depression. 

This note is on Supreme Court memorandum notepaper.  Peckham has boldly written and signed it.  The note has one horizontal fold and a paper clip impression at the left margin.  Overall the letter is in fine condition. 

Provenance:  This note comes from the personal collection of Justice Tom C. Clark, who served on the Supreme Court from 1949 until 1967.  Justice Clark collected the autographs of Supreme Court Justices dating back into the 19th Century, and we are privileged to offer a number of items from his collection. 




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