Thursday, November 17, 2011

Harrison and the Supreme Court

I was browsing the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site and found this page on Harrison's career as a lawyer. Harrison tried 15 cases before the US Supreme Court and one before the International Tribunal in Paris:
Harrison tried fifteen cases before the US Supreme Court and one before the International Tribunal in Paris. While Harrison and Hendricks were opposing counsel in the Milligan case in Federal Court, they were also on opposite sides in the U.S. Supreme Court case New Albany v. Burke. Harrison represented the city while Hendricks represented Burke and other taxpayers in New Albany. A Federal Court had issued an injunction requesting that the taxpayers be paid interest from the city on bonds issued to construct a railroad. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the ruling, thus this was Benjamin’s first prevailing win before the nation’s highest court.

In 1874, William Henry Harrison Miller replaced Porter in the firm. Then Mr. Hines retired and was replaced by John Elam. The firm was then known as Harrison, Miller, & Elam.

Harrison lost the case of Burke v. Smith, an issue of whether stockholders in the Indiana railroad corporation could be held liable for amounts in excess of the face amount of the stock. The company had become insolvent and wished for the stockholders to pay more. Ben argued for the railroad and the subscribers were represented by Michael Kerr. Appearing in the case with Kerr was James A. Garfield, probably making this the only time two future presidents were opposing counsel in the same case.

In 1881, Harrison was elected by the Indiana General Assembly to the US Senate. While Senator, he argued six cases before the Supreme Court. Over his career he enjoyed mixed success in his Supreme Court arguments. The cases involved constitutional questions on the taking of private property for public use, the right to determine municipal boundaries, and inheritance tax laws.

Harrison even tried cases after his presidency and was accused of this being a bias:
Harrison agreed to be plaintiff’s counsel in a complicated will trail over the estate of James Morrison in Richmond, Indiana in 1895. The estate in question was worth over $600,000 plus real estate. Harrison collected a large fee. During the trial the opposing counsel accused Harrison of using his status of ex-President to influence the judge and jury. Harrison rebutted;

I assert there is no ex-President in this case. I am here to discharge the sworn duties of my profession as I see them. If the people of this country have seen cause to honor me, it is no reason why I should not appear in the capacity of counselor nor a reason why I should be driven from this court.

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