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Collection Overview

Harlan, John M. (John Marshall), 1899-1971
John Marshall Harlan Papers
Public Policy Papers
Permanent URL:
1884-1972 (mostly 1936-1971)
685 boxes, 1 folder, and 16 items
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Boxes 1-684; 392a; 594A


John Marshall Harlan (1899-1971), a distinguished lawyer and jurist, served on the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Harlan's papers consist of legal materials, correspondence, writings, and personal papers that document his career as an attorney and a judge, especially the period when he was a Supreme Court Justice.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Harlan's papers consist of legal materials, correspondence, writings, and personal papers that document his career as an attorney and a judge, especially the period when he was a Supreme Court Justice. The majority of the papers are opinions and other legal documents from all of the cases heard before the Supreme Court while Harlan was a member, and Harlan's correspondence files that span the entirety of his career.

Please see the series descriptions in the contents list for additional information about individual series.

Collection Creator Biography:

Harlan, John M. (John Marshall), 1899-1971

John Marshall Harlan (1899-1971), a distinguished lawyer and jurist, served on the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. As a judge, Harlan was known for his conservative views and the scholarly level of his opinions. Prior to becoming a judge, Harlan was a partner at the law firm Root, Ballantine, Harlan, Bushby & Palmer in New York.

John Marshall Harlan was born in Chicago on May 20, 1899 to John Maynard and Elizabeth Palmer (Flagg) Harlan. He graduated from Princeton University with honors in 1920, where he was a member of the editorial staff of the Daily Princetonian and served as president of his class for three years. After Princeton, Harlan studied at Balliol College, Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, earning a B.A. degree in jurisprudence in 1923. Harlan married Ethel Andrews on November 10, 1928 and they had one daughter, Evangeline (Newcomb).

Upon returning to the United States in 1923, Harlan began working at the law firm of Root, Clark, Howland, Buckner & Ballantine, where senior partner Emory R. Buckner became his mentor, and studying at the New York Law School. He received his LL.B. degree from New York State Law School in 1924 and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1925. In 1932, Harlan was made a partner in the firm, which became Root, Ballantine, Harlan, Bushby & Palmer. Prominent cases that he was involved in included the prosecution of theatrical producer Earl Carroll for perjury (1926), settling the $5 million estate of Georgiana G.R. Wendel (1936), and defending the du Pont family in an antitrust suit (1952-1953). He was admitted into the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1945 and to the District of Columbia Bar in 1947.

Harlan temporarily left his law firm on a few occasion during his career for public service positions. When Buckner became U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he named Harlan chief of the prohibition division, a position Harlan held from 1925 to 1927. He was then appointed special assistant attorney general of New York state by Governor Alfred E. Smith from 1928 to 1930. In this capacity, he investigated the "sewer scandal" that involved the overpayment by the city for Queens county sewers and aided in the successful prosecution of Maurice Connolly, the former Queens borough president. During World War II, he was chief of the Operational Analysis Section of the Eighth Air Force. He also served as chief counsel of the New York State Crime Commission from 1951 to 1953, investigating waterfront rackets in New York City and gambling activities throughout New York state.

Harlan was appointed as a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District (New York, Vermont and Connecticut) in January 1954 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and confirmed by the Senate in February. Harlan resigned from Root, Ballantine, Harlan, Bushby & Palmer in March 1954, when he was sworn in. Harlan remain in this position for a year, when he became a Supreme Court justice. He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Eisenhower in November 1954, and on March 15, 1955 was confirmed by a vote of 71 to 11 by the United States Senate as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Harlan succeeded the late Robert H. Jackson. The delay in his confirmation is largely believed to be a tactic by Southern legislators to postpone the implementation of the Supreme Court's 1954 rulings on school desegregation, as no decision could be reached on that matter without a full court. He took the constitutional and judicial oaths on March 28, becoming the 89th Justice.

Harlan was known for being conservative and often cited for his frequent dissent from the majority opinion of the Warren Court, the most activist Supreme Court in American history up until that time. However, he also often agreed with the decisions of the "liberal" members of the Court, at times even writing the majority opinion. Harlan's decisions were largely based on his belief in precedent and the limited role of the Court. He believed that, unless there was a substantial demonstration of a previous error, precedent should be respected. He also argued against the Court making legislation or becoming a "haven for reform movements," believing that the Court circumvented the amendment process by interpreting the Constitution to address all social ills. Instead, he saw it as the Legislature's role to create laws to instigate reform. Harlan was also a supporter of the rights of the state and the individual. His opinions were often lauded for being well researched, concise, and well reasoned.

Some of Harlan's notable conservative opinions included voting against reapportioning state legislatures to coincide with "one man, one vote," against invalidating state poll taxes, against requiring the police to read suspects the "Miranda Rights," and against allowing convicted indigents to have free lawyers in appealing their convictions. He also voted to give the President powers of censorship over newspapers and to give the states substantial leeway in controlling pornography. His "liberal" opinions included voting in 1955 to carry out previous school desegregation rulings "with all deliberate speed," voting in 1963 to give free counsel to indigent defendants charged with major crimes, and writing the majority opinion in a 1971 ruling that wearing a jacket emblazoned with an obscene reference to the draft in a courthouse was constitutionally protected under free speech.

Harlan retired from the Supreme Court on September 23, 1971 due to ill health. He died on December 29, 1971 at the age of 72. He was succeeded on the Supreme Court by William H. Rehnquist.

1925-1927 Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York under Emory R. Buckner 1928-1930 Special Assistant Attorney General of the State of New York, appointed by Governor Alfred E. Smith, and Special Counsel in the proceeding for the removal and subsequent prosecution of Maurice E. Connolly as President of the Borough of Queens 1951-1953 Chief Counsel of the New York State Crime Commission appointed by Governor Thomas E. Dewey March 4, 1954 Judge in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit including New York, Connecticut and Vermont, appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower March 28, 1955-September 23, 1971 Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States nominated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 4, 1954, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson

Collection History


This collection was donated through a bequest of Justice John M. Harlan in March 1972 , with an addition in 1974 . Harlan''s Legion of Merit medal was donated by Etolia S. Basso in August 1993 .


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This is an unprocessed collection. The contents list provided is a preliminary inventory. Finding aid written by Adriane Hanson in July 2008. In 2019 minor financial records were deaccessioned, except for materials preserved in Series 12.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, any copyright vested in the donor has passed to The Trustees of Princeton University and researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of donor-created materials within the collection. For materials in the collection not created by the donor, or where the material is not an original, the copyright is likely not held by the University. In these instances, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Box 684 contains audiotapes.

Credit this material:

John Marshall Harlan Papers; Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Boxes 1-684; 392a; 594A

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Related Materials

Collections at the Mudd Manuscript Library of particular relevance to the John Marshall Harlan Papers are the papers of Harold M. Medina, a law professor and judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and the papers of Alpheus Thomas Mason related to his research on Supreme Court Justices.

The Library of Congress and the University of Louisville hold collections of papers of Harlan's grandfather, also named John Marshall Harlan. The Library of Congress holds the papers of many Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice Hugo LaFayette Black, who Harlan served with.


The following sources were consulted during the preparation of the biographical note: "Harlan Dies at 72; On Court 16 Years" by Lesley Oelsner. The New York Times, December 30, 1971. "Harlan, John Marshall" biography from Current Biography. H.W. Wilson Company, 1955.

Subject Terms:
Attorneys general -- New York (State)
Civil procedure -- United States.
Civil rights -- Cases.
Judges -- New York (N.Y.)
Judicial opinions -- United States -- Cases.
Judicial power -- United States.
Judicial process -- United States.
Law -- United States -- Cases.
Lawyers -- United States.
Trials -- United States.
Genre Terms:
Case files.
Legal correspondence.
Legal documents.
United States. Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
United States. Supreme Court
New York (State). Crime Commission
Connolly, Maurice E.
Du Pont, Pierre S. (Pierre Samuel), 1870-1954
Harlan, John M. (John Marshall), 1899-1971
Wendel, Ella Virginia von Echtzel, 1853-1931