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Melville W. Fuller

AKA Melville Weston Fuller

Born: 11-Feb-1833
Birthplace: Augusta, ME
Died: 4-Jul-1910
Location of death: Sorrento, ME
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, IL

Gender: Male
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Judge
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: US Chief Justice, 1888-1910

Melville W. Fuller was an attorney, Illinois state legislator, and campaign manager for Senator Stephen A. Douglas's 1860 Presidential campaign. He was Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court at the turn of the 20th century, and administered the oath of office to Presidents Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft.

His tenure at the Supreme Court is most remembered for the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson. Shoemaker Homer Plessy, a 1/8 black man (and thus under law considered Negro) had refused to leave his seat among white passengers on a train, for a seat in the train car designated for Negro passengers. Charged with violating Louisiana's Separate Car Law, Plessy was convicted by local Judge John H. Ferguson, and sentenced to pay a twenty dollar fine or spend twenty days in jail. Instead Plessy appealed the matter, eventually appearing before the United States Supreme Court, where Fuller ruled with a 7-1 majority (with only John Marshall Harlan in dissent) that "separate but equal" treatment for blacks and white citizens was constitutionally valid. The decision enshrined and inspired racially discriminatory laws in America for more than half a century, until it was overruled in the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.

Another key decision in Fuller's Supreme Court was Lochner v. New York, a 1905 federal appeal filed by bakery owner Joseph Lochner, in which Fuller voted with the court's 6-3 majority to overturn a New York state law which had forbidden bakeries from assigning employees to work in excess of sixty hours weekly. Hailed then and now by limited-state activists, the ruling served as legal precedent for decades of court decisions that overturned a wide swath of regulations regarding business, employment, and property law. During the 1930s Great Depression, Lochner provided the basis for the Supreme Court to invalidate numerous aspects of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal".

Fuller was the grand-uncle of futurist and engineer R. Buckminster Fuller.

Father: Frederick Augustus Fuller (attorney, b. 5-Oct-1806, d. 29-Jan-1849)
Mother: Catherine Martin Cony Weston (b. 1810, m. 17-May-1830, d. 1854)
Wife: Calista Ophelia Reynolds (m. 1858, d. 1864 tuberculosis, two daughters)
Wife: Mary Ellen Coolbaugh (b. 1837, m. 30-May-1866, d. 17-Apr-1904, six children)

    High School: Augusta School, Augusta, ME (1849)
    University: AB, Bowdoin College (1853)
    Law School: LLD, Harvard Law School (1855)

    US Supreme Court Justice Chief Justice (8-Oct-1888 to 4-Jul-1910)
    Illinois State House of Representatives (1863-65)
    Illinois State Bar Association President (1886)
    Maine State Bar Association 1855
    Smithsonian Institution Chancellor


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