More than a fraction: The life and work of Justice Pierce Butler

David Schroeder, Marquette University


More than three generations after his death, Pierce Butler remains a discordant if not forgotten figure, in many ways out of tune with the tenor of the mid- to late 1930s. Mr. Justice Butler, who served on the Supreme Court from 1923 until his death in 1939, consistently expressed his views concerning the law and the Supreme Court and their roles in American life, even as the Depression and New Deal caused political leaders and citizens to embrace a different understanding of government's function. Scholars have reduced Butler to a fraction, simply one of the "nine old men" and one of the Four Horsemen. But Pierce Butler was more than a fraction. His upbringing and more than three decades of practice as an attorney shaped and colored his seventeen years of service on the Supreme Court. Even as the Supreme Court repudiated his worldview, Butler remained a type for a significant minority of Americans, people whose understanding of patriotism and individualism and civic responsibility found expression in the Justice's work. Even as time has further discredited many of Butler's views, he remains the personification of a body of thought prevalent in the early decades of the twentieth century. That aggregate of thought cannot be embodied in a fraction. Butler was and is more than a fraction, and a whole account of his life and work reveals a formidable individual. Pierce Butler significantly affected American life, he represented and bolstered a persistent strain of conservative thought, and he provides a window into the brethren and work of the Supreme Court of the 1920s and 1930s.

Recommended Citation

Schroeder, David, "More than a fraction: The life and work of Justice Pierce Butler" (2009). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3357971.