Bradley, Joseph P. (1813–1892)

Author:Stanley I. Kutler

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Joseph P. Bradley's appointment to the Supreme Court in 1870 by President ULYSSES S. GRANT was seen as part of Grant's supposed court-packing scheme. But whatever shadow that event cast on Bradley's reputation rapidly disappeared. For more than two decades on the bench, he commanded almost unrivaled respect from colleagues, lawyers, and legal commentators, and over time he consistently has been ranked as one of the most influential jurists in the Court's history.

When Bradley was appointed he already was a prominent railroad lawyer and Republican activist. Indeed, friends had been advocating his appointment to the Court nearly a year before his appointment. Shortly after Grant's inauguration in 1869, the Republicans increased the size of the court from eight to nine. While Grant and Congress haggled over the selection of a new Justice, the Court decided, 4?3, that the legal tender laws were unconstitutional. Justice ROBERT C. GRIER clearly was senile, and after he cast his vote against the laws his colleagues persuaded him to resign. That gave Grant two appointments and, on February 7, 1870, he nominated WILLIAM STRONG and Bradley?and the Court almost simultaneously announced its legal tender decision.

Within a year, Bradley and Strong led a new majority to sustain the constitutionality of greenbacks (unsecured paper currency). In his CONCURRING OPINION, Bradley saw the power to emit BILLS OF CREDIT as the essential issue in the case, and from that he contended that "the incidental power of giving such bills the quality of legal tender follows

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almost as matter of course." Bradley also emphasized the government's right to maintain its existence. He insisted it would be a "great wrong" to deny Congress the asserted power, "a power to be seldom exercised, certainly; but one, the possession of which is so essential, and as it seems to me, so undoubted." (See LEGAL TENDER CASES.)

Three months after his appointment, Bradley conducted circuit court hearings in New Orleans where he encountered the SLAUGHTERHOUSE CASES. He held unconstitutional the Louisiana statute authorizing a monopoly for slaughtering operations. Three years later, when the case reached the Supreme Court on appeal, Bradley dissented as the majority sustained the regulation. With Justice STEPHEN J. FIELD, Bradley believed that the creation of the monopoly and the impairment of existing businesses violated the PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES clause of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT. Such privileges, Bradley had said earlier in his circuit court opinion, included a citizen's right to "lawful industrial pursuit?not injurious to the community?as he may see fit, without unreasonable regulation or molestation."

The antiregulatory views that Bradley advanced in Slaughterhouse did not persist as the major theme of...

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