Robert Cooper Grier - Federal Judicial Service

Federal Judicial Service

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin died in 1844 during the administration of President Tyler. Tyler made two attempted appointments to the seat, Edward King and John M. Read, but both were rejected, and the seats were open when James K. Polk became president in March, 1845. Polk also made two nominations, one of whom refused the appointment, future President James Buchanan, and one of whom was not confirmed by the Senate, George Washington Woodward. Polk finally nominated Grier on August 3, 1846, plucking him from relative obscurity. Grier was unanimously approved by the Senate on August 4, 1846, and received his commission the same day, joining a fellow Dickinson alumnus, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, on the Court.

Grier was one of two Northerners to side with the majority in the controversial Dred Scott decision, which denied civil rights to slaves and threatened to open the entire nation to slavery. Some critics suspected Grier of co-ordinating his actions with his distant cousin Alexander H. Stephens, a U.S. congressman from Georgia who was a strong apologist for slavery and would later become vice president of the Confederacy. But Stephens biographer Thomas E. Schott says this is unlikely since the two men were not close.

Grier wrote the opinion on the Prize Cases, which declared Lincoln's blockade of Southern ports constitutional. He served on the court until 1870, at which point he was quite frail, having suffered three strokes in 1867. His participation on the court was extremely limited by the end of his term, and he retired only after his colleagues pressed him to do so, ending his service on the bench on January 31, 1870. He died less than a year later, in Philadelphia. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

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