Willis Van Devanter was the only other United States Supreme Court Justice, and chronologically the second one, of Dutch American descent. The first one was John Jay, who had the honor of being the first United States Supreme Court Justice, and was appointed by George Washington.
Devanter’s Dutch roots can be traced back to his ancestor who first settled in the area that later became New York State in 1662. Devanter was born in Marion, Indiana on April 17, 1859. He was the first son of Isaac Van Devanter and Violetta Spencer Van Devanter. Seven other siblings would follow Willis’s birth.
His father wanted Willis to follow him in his legal career. Willis attended Indiana Asbury, later DePauw, University, and in 1879, he entered the College of Law at Cincinnati University, from where he graduated with a law degree, second in his class, in 1881.
Following Law School Van Devanter practiced law in his father’s law firm for three years. During that time period, in 1883, he also got married to Delice Burhans, with whom he had two sons. In 1884, he became intrigued with the opportunities on the western frontier, and moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, which was then a territory, and not yet a member state of the United States.
His move to Wyoming turned out to be a good decision. He was able to establish his own successful law practice, and also was able to become involved in the local and regional politics. Van Devanter’s legal work actually formed the basis of the Wyoming constitution when Wyoming gained admission to the Union in 1890. Around that time, in 1889, President Benjamin Harrison also appointed Van Devanter to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Wyoming Territory.
A little more than ten years later, in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Van Devanter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit. He spent the next seven years in that position. In 1910, President William Howard Taft appointed Van Devanter to the United States Supreme Court. He would serve there for the next 26 years.
During his tenure, Van Devanter was known as one of the more conservative justices, and was joined by other justices who also were of a conservative bent. This worked well with conservative governments. But when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in 1932, the conservative Supreme Court became a hindrance to the enactment of the more liberal approaches to alleviate the economic depression that was then in progress. As a result President Roosevelt was able to have Congress enact changes in the make-up of the Supreme Court. That change caused Van Devanter to resign from the Supreme Court in 1937. By that time he was 78 years old, and he would later say that he should have resigned five years earlier. Following his retirement, Van Devanter was replaced on the Supreme Court by Justice Hugo Black, an appointee of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
During his retirement years, Van Devanter became a gentleman farmer on 700 acres in the state of Maryland. Unfortunately, he was able to enjoy his retirement for only four years. Willis Van Devanter passed away in Washington, D. C., on February 8, 1941, a few months before his 82nd birthday.
Willis Van Devanter was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D. C. Van Devanter’s personal and judicial papers are archived at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.
Note: The author of this bio profile has recently written and published six non-fiction E-books which are available for $2.99 each on the Amazon Kindle web site. Google: Amazon Kindle Store, Pegels.
Willis Van Devanter, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willis_Van_Devanter
Willis Van Devanter Biography, http://www.madeinwyoming.net/profiles/van.php
E-BOOKS AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON; GOOGLE: Kindle Store Pegels
PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS, CURRENT AND HISTORIC
EIGHT PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICAN FAMILIES: THE ROOSEVELTS, VANDERBILTS AND OTHERS, 2015
FIFTEEN PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICAN FAMILIES: THE VAN BURENS, KOCH BROTHERS, VOORHEES AND OTHERS, 2015
PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS IN U.S. GOVERNMENT LEADERSHIP POSITIONS, 2015
DUTCH PEGELS INVOLVED IN WARS
ALLIED EUROPE CAMPAIGN—1944/1945: TACTICAL MISTAKES, 2017
THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN THE NETHERLANDS: MEMOIRS, 2017
FRENCH REVOLUTION, NAPOLEON AND RUSSIAN WAR OF 1812, 2015