Lamar, L. Q. C. (1825–1893)

Author:Charles W. Mccurdy

Page 1559

Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, draftsman of the Mississippi Ordinance of Secession, celebrated eulogist of CHARLES SUMNER, and "Great Pacificator" during the electoral crisis of 1877, was appointed to the Supreme Court by GROVER CLEVELAND in 1888. He was the first Democrat to be appointed in a quarter-century and the first ex-Confederate to serve on the Court. Lamar was sixty-two years old when he received his commission, the second oldest new Justice in the Court's history. But he had been the South's most prominent apostle of sectional reconciliation for more than a decade and the President was primarily interested in the nomination's symbolic dimensions.

Judging exhilarated Lamar, and he was among the Court's most productive members until debilitated by ill health in the spring of 1892. Construction of the public land laws was his specialty, reflecting his experience as Cleveland's reform-minded secretary of the interior. He was also valuable at the conference table. "His was the most suggestive mind that I ever knew," Chief Justice MELVILLE W. FULLER reported, "and not one of us but has drawn from his inexhaustible store." Lamar was equally impressed by his brethren, calling them "the smartest old fellows I ever saw." In 1893, when reminiscing about a long career of public service as Confederate diplomat, congressman, senator, and cabinet official, he described his judicial experience as "the most impressive incident in my entire intellectual and moral life."

STRICT CONSTRUCTION and traditional canons of interpretation characterized his work in constitutional law. Lamar had no sympathy for the newly fashioned concept of SUBSTANTIVE DUE PROCESS, and he concurred with Justice JOSEPH P. BRADLEY'S strident dissent in Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry. Co. v. Minnesota (1890), maintaining that the REASONABLENESS of price regulations was a legislative, not a judicial, question. He also resisted extension of the SWIFT V. TYSON (1842) "general jurisprudence" doctrine to industrial accident cases. Only in the well-trodden COMMERCE CLAUSE field did Lamar consistently vote to restrict the autonomy of the states. And though he was quick to strike down tax laws and police regulations that burdened interstate transactions, Lamar remained obsessed with the necessity of setting limits to Congress's commerce power. In KIDD V. PEARSON (1888), his most influential opinion, Lamar not only formulated the mischievous...

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