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David Josiah Brewer

In office
December 18, 1889[1] – March 28, 1910
Nominated by Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by Thomas Stanley Matthews
Succeeded by Charles Evans Hughes

Born June 20, 1837(1837-06-20)
Izmir, Turkey
Died March 28, 1910 (aged 72)
Washington, D.C.

David Josiah Brewer(June 20, 1837 – March 28, 1910) was an American jurist and an Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court for 20 years.




Early life

Brewer was born to a family of Congregational missionaries in Izmir, Turkey. His parents, Emilia Ann Hovey Field and Josiah Brewer, returned to the United States in 1838 and settled in Connecticut. Brewer attended college at Wesleyan University (1851-1854) and Yale University, graduating from the latter, Phi Beta Kappa in 1856.[2] Brewer read law for one year, then enrolled at Albany Law School in Albany, New York, graduating in 1858.


Upon graduating from law school, Brewer moved to Kansas and established a law practice. He was named Commissioner of the Federal Circuit Court in Leavenworth in 1861. He left that court to become a judge to the Probate and Criminal Courts in Leavenworth in 1862, and then changed courts again to become a judge to the First Judicial District of Kansas in 1865. He left that position in 1869 and became city attorney of Leavenworth. He was then elected to the Kansas Supreme Court in 1870, where he served for 14 years.

On March 25, 1884, Brewer was nominated by President Chester A. Arthur to the United States circuit court for the Eighth Circuit, to a seat vacated by George Washington McCrary. This court later became the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Brewer was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 31, and received commission the same day.

After 28 years on the bench, Brewer was nominated by Benjamin Harrison to the United States Supreme Court on December 4, 1889, to a seat vacated by Stanley Matthews. Brewer was confirmed by the Senate on December 18, and received commission the same day. He served on the court for 20 years, until his death in 1910.

Brewer was an active member of the Supreme Court, writing often in both concurring and dissenting opinions. He was a major contributor to the doctrine of substantive due process, arguing that certain activities are entirely outside government control. In his time he frequently sided with Court majorities striking down property rights restrictions. Brewer was the author of the unanimous opinion of the Court in Church of the Holy Trinity vs. United States (143 U.S. 457, 36 L.Ed. 226, 12 S. Ct. 511 February 29, 1892) where it was declared, "...These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation." Brewer was also the author of the unanimous opinion of the Court in Muller v. Oregon (1908), in support of a law restricting working hours for women. He was also the author of In re Debs, upholding federal injunctions to suppress labor strikes. Along with Justice Harlan, Justice Brewer dissented in Giles v. Harris (1903), a case challenging grandfather clauses as applied to voting rolls.

He was also the nephew of Associate Justice Stephen Johnson Field.

He wrote:

  • The Pew for the Pulpit (1897)
  • American Citizenship (1902)
  • The United States: A Christian Nation (1905)
  • The Mission of the United States in the Cause of Peace (1909)

In 1906, Brewer was one of the 30 founding members of the Simplified Spelling Board, founded by Andrew Carnegie to make English easier to learn and understand through changes in the English language.[3]


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: David Josiah Brewer". 2009-12-11. Retrieved 2009-12-11.  
  2. ^ Supreme Court Justices Who Are Phi Beta Kappa Members, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  3. ^ "Carnegie Assaults the Spelling Bee", The New York Times, March 12, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas Stanley Matthews
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
December 18, 1889 – March 28, 1910
Succeeded by
Charles Evans Hughes


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