Kentucky and the Supreme Court

By Jim Duff

As Kentucky Derby Day approaches and thoughts turn to two of Kentucky’s finest products – thoroughbred horses and bourbon – a third could be added to the list: Supreme Court justices.  For 150 years, if you were placing bets on where a Supreme Court justice would come from, the odds were very good that the appointee would be from Kentucky.

From 1807 through 1957, there was always at least one justice from Kentucky on the High Court, and from 1938 through 1939, three of the nine justices were from the Bluegrass State (James C. McReynolds, Louis D. Brandeis, and Stanley F. Reed).  In total, during this 150 year period in Supreme Court history, 10 justices and 1 chief justice came from Kentucky, although some had made their careers in another state by the time of their appointment.  In addition to Reed, Brandeis and McReynolds, the list of Kentuckians includes:  Thomas Todd; Robert Trimble; John McLean; Samuel F. Miller; John Marshall Harlan; Horace H. Lurton; Wiley B. Rutledge; and Chief Justice Fred M.Vinson. It is also a source of pride for Kentuckians that one of the two dissenters in the Dred Scott decision (Justice McLean) and the lone dissenter in Plessy v. Ferguson (Justice Harlan) were from Kentucky.

Why so many appointees from Kentucky?  Can it be attributed to something in the limestone-filtered waters in the Bluegrass that also strengthen the bones of the thoroughbreds and purify the finest bourbons in the world?  We include the mint julep recipe from the founder of Churchill Downs to assist in your contemplation of this pressing question. Riders Up!