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The Debs Decision

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The Supreme Court of the United States on March 10, 1919, handed down a decision on the Debs case. That decision is far-reaching in its immediate significance and still more far-reaching in its ultimate implications.

What is the Supreme Court of the United States?

Article III, Section I of the Constitution provides as follows:

"The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court.... The judges shall hold their offices during good behavior."

The judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate (Article XII, Section II). That is all the constitution provides with regard to the Supreme Court.

At the present time, there are nine judges on the Supreme bench. It might interest you to know some facts about the nine. All of the judges are men. The chief justice is Edward D. White, who was born in 1845 and admitted to the bar in 1868. He is seventy-three years of age. His birth-place was Louisiana. He served in the Confederate Army, in the State Senate, in the State Supreme Court and in the United States Senate. He has been a member of the Supreme Court for twenty-five years. Joseph McKenna is the second member in point of seniority. He was born in 1843. His birth-place is Philadelphia. He was a county District Attorney, a member of the State Legislature, a member of the national House of Representatives, attorney-general of the United States and a United States Circuit Judge. He has been a member of the Supreme Court for twenty-two years. Oliver W. Holmes, the Justice who read the Debs decision, was born in Boston in 1841. He is seventy-seven years of age. He was admitted to the bar in 1866. Justice Holmes served in the Union Army; he was a member of the Harvard Law School Faculty. He has been a member of the Supreme Court for seventeen years. Those are the three oldest men on the Supreme bench. They are the three men who have been on the bench longest, but their political background is typical of the political background of the other members of the Supreme Court, with the single exception of Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who as far as I know, held no public office at all before he was appointed a justice of the Supreme Court three years ago.

The nine members of the Supreme Court are all old men. Four of them were born before 1850; eight of them were born before 1860; one of them was born since 1861, that is, James C. McReynolds, who was born in 1862. There is not a single member of the Supreme Court bench born since the Civil War. The oldest man on the bench is Justice Holmes, seventy-seven; the youngest man on the bench is Justice McReynolds, fifty-seven; the average age of the justices of the Supreme Court is sixty-six years. These men all began practising law while we were children, or before we were born. Three of them began the practice of law before 1870; six of them began to practice law before 1880; nine of them before 1884. The last member of the Supreme bench to be admitted to the practice of law, Justice McReynolds, was admitted in 1884....