History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


Willis Van Devanter

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


Van Devanter asks the marshal to seat ladies in the courtroom

Willis Van Devanter, 18591941.  Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court, 19111937.  Autograph Note (unsigned) on personal calling card, 1¾" x 3¼", no place [Washington, D.C.], no date.

Justice Van Devanter asks the marshal of the Supreme Court to seat guests in the courtroom.  On the front of his engraved personal calling card, above the imprinted “Mr. Justice Van Devanter,” he writes, in full:  “Please sea Mrs Eastman and her sister in the reserved seats."

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 served on the Supreme Court some 26 years.  He retired once Congress voted full pay for Justices who retired over age 70.  He said that he would have retired earlier because of illness had he not been concerned New Deal legislation and had his finances allowed him to do so.  

Van Devanter has written this note in brown fountain pen.  The card is clean and bright except for a small paper clip stain at the left margin that does not affect Van Devanterʼs handwriting or the printing on the card.  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.  This one comes with the backing page, which bears the federal eagle watermark and Justice Van Devanterʼs typed name, that Justice Clark inserted behind the item in the page protector used to house this letter his collection.  This piece is not laid down to the backing sheet.

Unframed.  Please ask us about custom framing this piece.


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