Joseph McKenna

For other uses, see Joseph McKenna (disambiguation).
"Justice McKenna" redirects here. For other uses, see Justice McKenna (disambiguation).
Joseph McKenna
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
January 21, 1898  January 5, 1925[1]
Nominated by William McKinley
Preceded by Stephen Field
Succeeded by Harlan Stone
42nd United States Attorney General
In office
March 5, 1897  January 25, 1898
Appointed by William McKinley
Preceded by Judson Harmon
Succeeded by John Griggs
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In office
March 17, 1892  March 5, 1897
President Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by Lorenzo Sawyer
Succeeded by William Morrow
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1885  March 28, 1892
Preceded by Barclay Henley
Succeeded by Samuel Hilborn
Member of the California State Assembly
In office
Personal details
Born (1843-08-10)August 10, 1843
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died November 21, 1926(1926-11-21) (aged 83)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Amanda Borneman
Alma mater Saint Joseph's University
Benicia Collegiate Institute
Religion Roman Catholicism

Joseph McKenna (August 10, 1843 – November 21, 1926) was an American politician who served in all three branches of the U.S. federal government, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, as U.S. Attorney General and as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. He is one of seventeen members of the House of Representatives who subsequently served on the Supreme Court (including two Chief Justices).[2]


Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Irish Catholic immigrants, he attended St. Joseph's College and the Collegiate Institute at Benicia, California. After being admitted to the California bar in 1865, he became District Attorney for Solano County and then campaigned for and won a seat in the California State Assembly for two years (1875–1877). He retired after one term and an unsuccessful bid for Speaker of the House.[3]

After two unsuccessful attempts, McKenna was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1885 and served for four terms. He was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1892 by President Benjamin Harrison.[3]

In 1897 he was appointed the 42nd Attorney General of the United States by President William McKinley, and served in that capacity until 1898.[4] He was then appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States to succeed Justice Stephen J. Field. McKenna was named by President McKinley on January 28, 1898 and took his seat the next day. Conscious of his limited credentials, McKenna took courses at Columbia Law School for several months to improve his legal education before taking his seat on the Court.

Although he never developed a consistent legal philosophy, McKenna was the author of a number of important decisions. One of the most notable was his opinion in the case of United States v. U.S. Steel Corporation (1920) which held that antitrust cases would be decided on the “rule of reason” principle—only alleged monopolistic combinations that are in unreasonable restraint of trade—are illegal.[5]

McKenna was known to be a centrist, and was one of the most vigorous members of the Supreme Court. He authored 614 majority opinions, and 146 dissenting opinions during his time on the bench.[Bush, Supreme Court Decisions] His passionate rebuttal to the denial of "pecuniary benefit" to a wife whose husband had been killed while working on the railroad was among those which brought a change to the Employer Liability Act. His most noteworthy opinions are Hipolite Egg Co. v. United States 220 U.S. 45 (1911),[6][7] in which a unanimous Court upheld the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906,

In Hoke v. United States, he concurred in upholding the Mann Act, a/k/a "White-Slave Traffic Act". However, four years later, he dissented from the Court's opinion in Caminetti v. United States (1917), which held the act applied to private, noncommercial enticements to cross state lines for purposes of a sexual liaison. According to McKenna, the Act regulated only commercial vice, i.e., "immoralities having a mercenary purpose." [8]

While McKenna was generally quite favorable to federal power, he joined the Court's substantive due process jurisprudence and voted with the majority in 1905's Lochner v. New York, which struck down a state maximum-hours law for bakery workers,[8] This decision carried broader implications for the scope of federal power, at least until the New Deal and the 1937 switch-in-time-that-saved-nine. See, Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937.

McKenna resigned from the Court in January 1925 at the suggestion of Chief Justice William Howard Taft.[9] McKenna's ability to perform his duties had been diminished significantly by a stroke suffered ten years earlier, and by the end of his tenure McKenna could not be counted on to write coherent opinions.[9]

Justice McKenna was one of thirteen Catholic justices (out of the 112 total through the appointment of Justice Elena Kagan) in the history of the Supreme Court.[10]

McKenna married Amanda Borneman in 1869, and the couple had three daughters and one son.[8] McKenna died on November 21, 1926.[8] in Washington, D.C.. His remains are interred at the city's Mount Olivet Cemetery.[11][12][13]

See also



Further reading

  • Abraham, Henry J. (1999). Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Clinton (Revised ed.). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-8476-9604-9. 
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 1-56802-126-7. 
  • Frank, John P. (1995). Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L., eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-7910-1377-4. 
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505835-6. 
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0-87187-554-3. 
  • McKevitt, Brother Matthew (1946) Joseph McKenna: Associate Justice of the United States.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. p. 590. ISBN 0-8153-1176-1. 
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California Assembly
Preceded by
James Dixon
William Northcutt
W. S. M. Wright
Member of the California Assembly
from the 19th district

Served alongside: Thomas Swan
Succeeded by
John Dare
Richard Haile
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Barclay Henley
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Samuel Hilborn
Legal offices
Preceded by
Lorenzo Sawyer
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Succeeded by
William Morrow
Preceded by
Judson Harmon
United States Attorney General
Succeeded by
John Griggs
Preceded by
Stephen Field
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Harlan Stone
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