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Willis Van Devanter

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


Van Devanter signs an attestation for the Supreme Court clerk

Willis Van Devanter, 18591941.  Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court, 19111937.  Partially printed Document Signed, Willis Van Devanter, one page, 8½ x 14" on stationery of the Supreme Court of the United States, no place [Washington, D.C.], June 9, 1933.

This is a certificate that the Supreme Court would have attached to the clerkʼs certification of a document in order to attest to the clerkʼs position and thereby “authenticate" the document.  In order to create a certified copy of document, the clerk of the court must certify, usually under seal, that the copy is a true copy of the original on file in the clerkʼs office.  In perhaps a bit of overkill, some statutes require not only certified copies, but authenticated copies.  Authentication occurs when the clerk not only certifies the document—often attesting that the judge is the judge—but then the judge, in turn, attests that the clerk is the clerk. 

Thus the language of this document, which Justice Van Devanter signed to attest to the Supreme Court clerkʼs position:  “I, Willis Van Devanter, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, do hereby certify that Charles Elmore Cropley, whose name is subscribed to the foregoing was at the time of signing the same, and is now, Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States, duly appointed and qualified, that his signature thereto is genuine, and that said attestation is in due form."

Van Devanter, a Wyoming Republican appointed by President William Howard Taft, is best known as one of the “Four Horsemen,” the group of four conservative Justices who opposed most of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs.  Van Devanter and Justices James C. McReynolds, George Sutherland, and Pierce Butler influenced the Court's invalidation of much New Deal legislation, including the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, Schecter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935); the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936); the Bituminous Coal Act of 1935, Carter v. Carter Coal Co., 298 U.S. 238 (1936); and a New York minimum wage law for women and children, Morehead v. New York, 298 U.S. 587 (1936).  By 1937, the success of these four, often joined by the swing vote of Justice Owen Roberts, led to Roosevelt's frustration with the Court and his infamous “Court Packing Plan,” by which the President sought to appoint a majority of new Justices favorable to the administration.

Van Devanter has signed this certificate in black fountain pen.  The document is clean and bright.  It has two horizontal folds, which affect nothing.  There are ½" fold splits at the right margin and staple holes in the upper left corner.  Overall the piece is in fine condition.

Provenance:  This document 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 other Supreme Court Justices dating back into the 19th Century.  We are privileged to offer a number of items from the collection.

Unframed.  Please ask us about custom framing this piece.


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