Stanley Matthews (Supreme Court justice)

Thomas Stanley Matthews (July 21, 1824 – March 22, 1889), known as Stanley Matthews in adulthood,[2] was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, serving from May 1881 to his death in 1889. Matthews was the Court's 46th justice. Before his appointment to the Court by President James A. Garfield, Matthews served as a senator from his home state of Ohio, and as an attorney.

Stanley Matthews
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
May 17, 1881[1]  March 22, 1889[1]
Nominated byJames Garfield
Preceded byNoah Swayne
Succeeded byDavid Brewer
United States Senator
from Ohio
In office
March 21, 1877  March 4, 1879
Preceded byJohn Sherman
Succeeded byGeorge Pendleton
Personal details
Thomas Stanley Matthews

(1824-07-21)July 21, 1824
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
DiedMarch 22, 1889(1889-03-22) (aged 64)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Mary Matthews
RelativesT. S. Matthews (grandson)
EducationKenyon College (BA)

Early life

Matthews was born July 21, 1824, in Cincinnati, Ohio.[lower-alpha 1] He was the oldest of 11 children born to Thomas J. Matthews and Isabella Brown Matthews (his second wife).[2]

He graduated from Kenyon College in 1840. While there he met future-president of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes. Then, after briefly studying law in Cincinnati, he moved to Columbia, Tennessee, where he practiced law and edited the local newspaper. Matthews returned to Cincinnati in 1844, and was admitted to the bar the following year.[2]


Matthews was selected to serve as the clerk of the Ohio House of Representatives in 1848, and afterward served as a county judge in Hamilton County, Ohio. He was then elected to the Ohio State Senate for the 1st district, where he served from 1856 to 1858. He was then appointed as United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, serving from 1858 to 1861. He resigned his position the outset of the Civil War] to serve as a lieutenant colonel with the 23rd Ohio Infantry regiment of the Union Army. His superior officer was Rutherford B. Hayes; William McKinley also served in the regiment. With the 23rd Ohio Regiment, Matthews fought at the battle of Carnifex Ferry. On October 26, 1861 he was appointed colonel of the 51st Ohio Infantry Regiment. and on April 11, 1862 he was nominated as brigadier general of U.S. Volunteers. However, the nomination was tabled and never confirmed. Nevertheless, Colonel Matthews commanded a brigade in the Army of the Ohio and later the Army of the Cumberland.

In 1863, after being elected a judge of Superior Court of Cincinnati, Matthews resigned from the Union Army. Two years later, he returned to private practice. During the post-war reconstruction era, Matthews represented the railroad industry. His clients included Jay Gould.[4]

He ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1876, but was defeated. Then, in early 1877, he served as counsel for Rutherford B. Hayes before the electoral commission that Congress created to resolve the disputed 1876 presidential election.[4] That same year Matthews won a special election to the Senate to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of John Sherman. He did not seek reelection.

Matthews was first nominated as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court by President Hayes on January 26, 1881,[5] in the last weeks of Hayes's presidency. The nomination ran into opposition in the U.S. Senate because of Matthews's close ties to railroad interests and due to his close long-term friendship with Hayes. Consequently, the Judiciary Committee took no action on the nomination during the remainder of the 46th Congress.[6][7]

Upon succeeding Hayes, President James A. Garfield swiftly re-nominated Matthews to the Court  March 14, 1881, just 10 days after taking office.[5] Though a new nomination from a new president, earlier concerns about Matthews's suitability for the Court persisted, and Garfield was widely criticized for re-submitting Matthews's name.[6] In spite of the opposition, and, although the Judiciary Committee made a recommendation to the Senate that it reject the nomination,[8] on May 12, the Senate voted 24–23 to confirm Matthews. The vote was the closest for any successful Supreme Court nominee in U.S. Senate history;[lower-alpha 2] no other justice has been confirmed by a single vote.[5][7][9]

Matthews's tenure as a member of the Supreme Court on May began 17, 1881, when he took the judicial oath, and ended March 22, 1889, upon his death.[1][4] He was regarded as one of the more progressive justices on the Court at the time.[9]

Important decisions

Among these was Yick Wo v. Hopkins. In 1880, the elected officials of city of San Francisco, California thought they had a clever way to deal with the Chinese in the city. They passed an ordinance that persons could not operate a laundry in a wooden building without a permit from the Board of Supervisors. The ordinance conferred upon the Board of Supervisors the discretion to grant or withhold the permits. At the time, about 95% of the city's 320 laundries were operated in wooden buildings. Approximately two-thirds of those laundries were owned by Chinese persons. Although most of the city's wooden building laundry owners applied for a permit, none were granted to any Chinese owner, while virtually all non-Chinese applicants were granted a permit. Yick Wo (益和, Pinyin: Yì Hé, Americanization: Lee Yick), who had lived in California and had operated a laundry in the same wooden building for many years and held a valid license to operate his laundry issued by the Board of Fire-Wardens, continued to operate his laundry and was convicted and fined $10.00 for violating the ordinance. He sued for a writ of habeas corpus after he was imprisoned in default for having refused to pay the fine.

The Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Matthews, found that the administration of the statute in question was discriminatory and that there was therefore no need to even consider whether the ordinance itself was lawful. Even though the Chinese laundry owners were usually not American citizens, the court ruled they were still entitled to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Matthews also noted that the court had previously ruled that it was acceptable to hold administrators of the law liable when they abused their authority. He denounced the law as a blatant attempt to exclude Chinese from the laundry trade in San Francisco, and the court struck down the law, ordering dismissal of all charges against other laundry owners who had been jailed.


In 1843, Matthews married Mary Ann "Minnie" Black. They had 10 children, four of whom died during an outbreak of scarlet fever in 1859.[2] One surviving son, Paul Clement, was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey from 1915 to 1937. His son, Justice Matthews's grandson, Thomas Stanley, was editor of Time magazine from 1949 to 1953.[10][11]


Matthews' health declined precipitously during 1888; he died in Washington D.C. on March 22, 1889.[12][13] He is interred at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio.[14][15]

A collection of Justice Matthews's correspondence and other papers are located at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center library in Fremont, Ohio and open for research. Additional papers and collections are at: Cincinnati Historical Society, Cincinnati, Ohio; Library of Congress, Manuscript and Prints & Photographs Divisions, Washington, D.C.; Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio; .Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City, New York; State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Archives Division, Madison, Wisconsin; and Mississippi State Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi.[16]

See also


  1. The Supreme Court of Ohio & Ohio Judicial System website lists his birthplace as Lexington, Kentucky.[3]
  2. Since 1881, the three closest roll call votes on Supreme Court nominations were the 50–48 vote in 2018 confirming Brett Kavanaugh, the 52–48 vote in 1991 confirming Clarence Thomas, and the 39–41 vote in 1930 rejecting John J. Parker.[5][8]


  1. "Justices 1789 to Present". Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  2. Cushman, Clare, ed. (2013). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–2012 (Third ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: CQ Press. pp. 203–206. ISBN 978-1-60871-832-0. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  3. "Stanley Matthews (July 21, 1824 - March 22, 1889)". Columbus, Ohio: Supreme Court of Ohio. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  4. "Stanley Matthews, 1881-1889". Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  5. "U.S. Senate: Supreme Court Nominations: 1789–Present". Washington, D.C.: U.S. Senate. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  6. Gilbert, Sheldon (October 6, 2018). "A look at the closest Court confirmation ever". Constitution Daily. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: National Constitution Center. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  7. Hogue, Henry H. (August 20, 2010). "Supreme Court Nominations Not Confirmed, 1789-August 2010" (PDF). CRS Report for Congress (RL31171). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  8. McMillion, Barry J.; Rutkus, Denis Steven (July 6, 2018). "Supreme Court Nominations, 1789 to 2017: Actions by the Senate, the Judiciary Committee, and the President" (PDF). CRS Report for Congress (RL33225). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  9. Phillips, Kristine (October 8, 2018). "'Moral dry-rot': The only Supreme Court justice who divided the Senate more than Kavanaugh". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  10. "T. S. Matthews Papers 1910-1991". Princeton University. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  11. Foderaro, Lisa W. (January 6, 1991). "T. S. Matthews, 89, Ex-Editor of Time and Author". New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  12. "The Dead Justice.; Funeral Services Of Stanley Matthews In Washington". The New York Times. March 26, 1889. Retrieved June 29, 2019 via New York Times print archive.
  13. "Stanley Matthews. A Member of the Supreme Court Bench Dead. An Able Jurist And Judge". Los Angeles Herald. March 23, 1889. Retrieved June 29, 2019 via California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside.
  14. "Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook". Archived from the original on September 3, 2005. Retrieved November 24, 2013. Supreme Court Historical Society.
  15. Christensen, George A., "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited", Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17–41 (February 2008), University of Alabama.
  16. Location of papers, Sixth Circuit Archived 2009-01-19 at the Wayback Machine United States Court of Appeals.

Further reading

Ohio Senate
Preceded by
George Pendleton
John Schiff
William Converse
Member of the Ohio Senate
from the 1st district

Served alongside: George Holmes, William Converse
Succeeded by
William Hatch
A. B. Langdon
Charles Thomas
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
John Sherman
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Ohio
Served alongside: Allen Thurman
Succeeded by
George Pendleton
Legal offices
Preceded by
Noah Swayne
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
David Brewer
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