Who Was the First Supreme Court Justice to Have a Lawyer Spouse,

and when did she marry him?

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

A little trivia question (repeated from a 2005 post).


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  1. Without looking it up, I’ll guess William Douglas, whose young wife Cathy (they married in the mid-1960’s) became a lawyer.

    1. Cathy Douglas did become a lawyer in 1973, while Justice Douglas was still on the Court; but that’s not the earliest.

  2. When did “she” marry “him” narrows it down, no?

    The first “she” on the court (Sandra Day O’Connor) was married to a lawyer, John Jay O’Connor.

    1. Ah, pronouns and their referents — not always as clear as they at first appear ….

      1. Probably should have written “when did they marry”.

        1. Or maybe I wanted things not to be entirely clear.

          1. Ah, a lawyer at heart! 🙂 🙂 🙂

          2. I’m not convinced that’s grammatically correct. The first phrase has a subject and a direct object, don’t flip those in the next phrase.

            1. I don’t think there’s a grammatical rule forbidding such flipping, whether you look to usage or to the authorities. Indeed, “John cheated on Mary — that’s why she left him,” which has precisely the same flipping, would be pretty clearly fully standard, I think.

              Of course, there is a rule of clear writing, which is to avoid ambiguity, and in particular ambiguity in pronoun referents. I’m not sure that order flipping is the problem there; “Pat and Chris had a huge fight — that’s why she left him” is suboptimal regardless of whether Pat did the divorcing or Chris did. And certainly there are lots of ambiguous pronoun referents without order flipping. But in any event, that’s not a grammatical rule.

              1. Eugene is a descriptivist. He probably keeps a framed picture of Steven Pinker on his nightstand, Garner’s face on his dartboard, and that awful Webster’s Third within arm’s reach.

  3. Abe Fortas, whose wife Carolyn Agger was a tax lawyer. They married in 1935.

    1. I think that’s correct.

    2. I was going to guess Fortas, but i didn’t remember the name of his wife, or know that they married that long ago.

  4. More interesting question: Have there ever been two US Supreme Court justices sitting at the same time who were related by blood or marriage?

    1. Everyone is related by ‘blood.’ We’re all cousins of some degree.

      1. Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan are related through Abraham.

        1. Aren’t they related through Jacob, who was two generations later? Making those three, if you figure Abraham lived 3000 years ago and that there are three generations per century, about 87th cousins. If there were an Arab justice, he would be their 89th cousin. In real life, all three are, I believe, of primarily or exclusively Ashkenazic descent, and surely more closely related than that, though probably not in a traceable way.

          1. All three are Ashkenazi Jews so they are almost certainly closer than 89th cousins – any Ashkenazi Jew who looks at his family tree will find a lot of it (indeed, Jacob’s parents were first cousins). There’s a reason that first cousin marriage is legal in New York.

      2. Ha, ha, ha…

        I was thinking of somewhat closer blood relations. Close enough for it to be illegal for them to get married to each-other.

  5. Just for sport, some UK Supreme Court marital links: the recently retired Lord Mance is married to Lady Arden, who was a Lord Justice of Appeal while he was a Law Lord, and who succeeded him on the Supreme Court.

    (Slightly less exciting, another Law Lord, Lady Black, is married to Sir Richard McCombe, LJ, a Lord Justice of Appeal.)

    And yes, there is a rule against Law Lords sitting on panels that hear appeals against their spouse’s judgments. (But obviously that didn’t stop Lord Mance from citing Lady Arden’s judgments as authority, for example in Assange v. The Swedish Prosecution Authority (2012), where he relied on several of her judgments in par. 203.)

  6. “I gotta 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.”
    – Henry Brockholst Livingston, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

  7. As long as we’re being lawyerlike, an argument can be made that Fortas wasn’t the first, because the question asks who was the first “Supreme Court Justice” to have a lawyer spouse, without specifying the United States Supreme Court. Roger Traynor, who served on the California Supreme Court from 1940 to 1970, married Madeleine Emilie Lackman in 1933, 2 years before Fortas was married. But she didn’t get her JD until 1956, so maybe Fortas still wins.

  8. An unfair question, because prior to 2015 Justices were unconstitutionally denied the right to marry spouses of the same sex.

    1. So, when will the first same-sex-married person be appointed to the US Supreme Court?

    2. The law may have been unfair, but that doesn’t make the question unfair. The question of who was the 6th President of the US is not rendered unfair by the fact that at the time women did not have the vote and were not considered eligible for the office of President.

      1. To be fair, my comment had just a hint of sarcasm.

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