Previous Committee Chairmen

The chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee has changed 49 times. Forty one different Senators have held the position since the Committee was established as one of the original standing Committees of the Senate in 1816. Dudley Chase of Vermont served as the panel's first chair.

Italics denotes a Chairman who has served at two intervals.

 

2015-Present
Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa

2007-2015
Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vermont

January 15,2003-January 6, 2005
Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah

January 20-June 5, 2001
Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah

1995-2001
Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah

1981-1987
James Strom Thurmond, R-South Carolina

1956-1978
James O. Eastland, D-Mississippi

1953-1955
William Langer, R-North Dakota

1947-1949
Alexander Wiley, R-Wisconsin

1941-1945
Frederick Van Nuys, D-Indiana

1926-1933
George W. Norris, R-Nebraska

1923-1924
Frank B. Brandegee, R-Connecticut

1913-1919
Charles A. Culberson, D-Texas

1904
Orville H. Platt, R-Connecticut

1893-1895
James L. Pugh, D-Alabama

1881-1891
George F. Edmunds, R-Vermont

1872-1879
George F. Edmunds, R-Vermont

1857-1861
James A. Bayard, Jr., D-Delaware

1845-1847
Chester Ashley, D-Arkansas

1838-1841
Garret D. Wall, New Jersey

1833-1836
John M. Clayton, Delaware

1831-1832
William L. Marcy, New York

1828-1829
John Macpherson Berrien, Georgia

1819-1823
William Smith, South Carolina

1817-1818
John J. Crittenden, Kentucky

2005-2007
Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania

June 6, 2001-January 15, 2003
Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vermont

January 3 - January 20, 2001
Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vermont

1987-1995
Joseph R. Biden, D-Delaware

1979-1981
Edward M. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts

1955-1956
Harley M. Kilgore, D-West Virginia

1949-1953
Patrick McCarran, D-Nevada

1945-1947
Patrick McCarran, D-Nevada

1933-1941
Henry F. Ashurst, D-Arizona

1924-1926
Albert B. Cummins, R-Iowa

1919-1923
Knute Nelson, R-Minnesota

1905-1912
Clarence D. Clark, R-Wyoming

1895-1904
George F. Hoar, R-Massachusetts

1891-1893
George F. Hoar, R-Massachusetts

1879-1881
Allen G. Thurman, D-Ohio

1861-1872
Lyman Trumbull, R-Illinois

1848-1857
Andrew P. Butler, D-South Carolina

1841-1845
John Macpherson Berrien, Georgia

1836-1838
Felix Grundy, Tennessee

1832-1833
William Wilkins, Pennsylvania

1829-1831
John Rowan, Kentucky

1823-1828
Martin Van Buren, New York

1818-1819
James Burrill, Jr., Rhode Island

1816-1817
Dudley Chase, Vermont

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Patrick J. Leahy (1940 – Present)

Patrick J. Leahy of Middlesex was elected to the United States Senate in 1974. Leahy is the current Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a position he has held since January 2007. He also served as Chairman from June 2001 through January 2003. A graduate of Saint Michael's College in Colchester (1961), he received his Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center (1964). He served for eight years as State's Attorney in Chittenden County, Vermont. He gained a national reputation for his law enforcement activities and was selected as one of three outstanding prosecutors in the United States (1974). Leahy is a longtime advocate for government transparency, and he authored and advocates a wide range of anti-crime and anti-drug initiatives. Leahy is also a senior member of the Agriculture and Appropriations Committees, and serves as the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.

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Arlen Specter (1930-Present)

Arlen Specter served as the 47th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, from 2005 to 2007. He was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1930. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University Law School and went on to practice law in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, eventually becoming district attorney. In 1964, he served on the Warren Commission, the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980 and was subsequently re-elected four times.

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Orrin G. Hatch (1934 – Present)

Orrin G. Hatch served as the 42nd, 44th, and 46th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 2001 and 2003 to 2005. Born in 1934 in Homestead Park, Pennsylvania, Hatch graduated from Brigham Young University and the University of Pittsburgh Law School. After several years of practicing law in Pittsburgh, he moved to Utah in 1969. In 1976, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Utah, and was reelected five times.  During his tenure in the Senate, Hatch has served as the chairman of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, and the Committee on the Judiciary.  He is the current ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

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Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (1942 – Present)

Joseph R. Biden, Jr. attended the University of Delaware and received his law degree from Syracuse University College of Law.  He was admitted to the Delaware bar in 1969. After two years on the Wilmington City Council, Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, becoming the fifth youngest Senator in history. Biden was an active member of the Judiciary Committee early in his career and became the Ranking Member of the committee from 1981 until 1987. In 1987, Biden became the forty-first Chairman of the Committee.  He remained Chairman until 1995.  Biden is the current Vice President of the United States.

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James Strom Thurmond (1902 – 2003)

James Strom Thurmond served as the 40th chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1981 to 1987. He was born in Edgefield, South Carolina, in 1902, and he graduated from Clemson College in 1923. Thurmond became the superintendent of education for Edgefield County, South Carolina, in 1929, starting a career in public service that would last more than seven decades. He held a variety of public offices and served in the U.S. Army Reserve before he was appointed as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate to complete the term of a South Carolina Senator who resigned in 1954. He was elected in his own right as a write-in candidate for a new term starting in 1955, and he promised during his campaign that he would resign so he would face a contested primary election. He resigned from office in 1956 and was successfully re-elected as a Democrat to fill the vacancy that he himself had created. In 1964 he switched his political affiliation to Republican. Thurmond was re-elected seven times, and he chose not to run for re-election in 2002. At age 100. He died in 2003 in his hometown of Edgefield, South Carolina.

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Edward M. Kennedy (1932 – 2009)

Edward M. Kennedy served as the 39th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1979 to 1981. Born in 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts, Kennedy graduated from Harvard College, The Hague Academy of International Law, and the University of Virginia Law School. He served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1959.  In 1961, Kennedy was appointed assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts. He was elected in a 1962 special election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of his brother, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was reelected eight times.  Kennedy went on to serve as the Democratic whip from 1969 to 1971; the Chairman of Committee on the Judiciary; Committee on Labor and Human Resources; and was the Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.  Kennedy died in 2009 at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

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James O. Eastland (1904-1986)

James O. Eastland was a Democratic Senator from Mississippi. He was born on November 28, 1904, in Doddsville, Mississippi. He attended the University of Mississippi at Oxford, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Eastland studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1927. He practiced law in Forest, Mississippi, and served in the Mississippi State House of Representatives from 1928 to 1932. During the 1930s, Eastland also took over his family's cotton plantation and throughout his life he always regarded farming as his primary occupation.  Eastland joined the Senate on June 30, 1941 when he was appointed to replace Senator Pat Harrison, who died in office. Eastland chose to forgo running in the special election for the seat later that year and left office on September 28, 1941. Eastland did, however, run for a full term in 1942. He won the general election and he took office for the second time on January 3, 1943.  Eastland served until his retirement on December 27, 1978. He was replaced by current Mississippi Senator, Republican Thad Cochran. Eastland returned to Doddsville, Mississippi, where he died on February 19, 1986.

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Harley M. Kilgore (1893 – 1956)

Harley M. Kilgore began his life of public service after graduating from the Law Department of the University of West Virginia. After being admitted to the bar in 1914, he became a teacher and organized the first public high school in Raleigh County, West Virginia. He became the school's first principle and before returning to law. During World War I, Kilgore served as an infantry Captain. After leaving the United States Army, he went on to organize the West Virginia National Guard and retired as a Colonel in 1953.  Kilgore served as a judge in the Raleigh County criminal court from 1933-1940, when he was elected to the United States Senate. He was reelected until his death in 1956.  Kilgore served on the Committee that oversaw the mobilization efforts of World War II and assisted in the establishment of the National Science Foundation. Kilgore was a long time member of the Committee on the Judiciary and served as its 37th chairman from 1955 to 1956.

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William Langer (1886 – 1959)

William Langer served as the 36th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1953 to 1955. Born in North Dakota, he studied at the University of North Dakota and at Columbia University in New York. He served as Governor of North Dakota from 1933 to 1934 when he was removed by the State Supreme Court after being convicted of fraud. Langer's wife, Lydia, made an unsuccessful bid for Governor in 1934. Langer served again as Governor of North Dakota from 1937 to 1939. In 1940, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He served in the Senate from 1941 until his death in 1959.

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Alexander Wiley (1884 – 1967)

Alexander Wiley served as the 34th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1947-1949. Born in 1884 in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Wiley attended Augsburg College, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and graduated from the law department of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He served as the Chippewa County district attorney from 1909-1915.  Wiley engaged in agricultural and banking pursuits until 1936.  IN 1936, he was a candidate for governor of Wisconsin. In 1938, Wiley was elected to the U.S. Senate and was reelected three times. He served as Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Foreign Relations. After losing the 1962 election, Wiley left the Senate. He died in 1967 in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

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Patrick McCarran (1876 – 1954)

Patrick McCarran was a Democratic Senator from Nevada. He was born in Reno, Nevada, on August 8, 1876. He attended the University of Nevada.  In 1902, McCarran was tapped by Silver Democrats to run for the Nevada legislature to push silver mining issues.  He taught himself law and he passed the bar in 1905.  McCarran began practicing law in the silver mining outposts of Tonopah and Goldfield, Nevada. There he was a successful defense attorney, which led to his election as the district attorney of Nye County, Nevada, a position he held from 1907 to 1909.  In 1912, McCarran was elected to the Nevada Supreme Court. He served as an Associate Justice on the court from 1913 to 1917 and as Chief Justice in both 1917 and 1918. In 1916 McCarran attempted to usurp the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate from the incumbent Key Pittman. Pittman won the nomination handily and the Democratic Party refused to support McCarran in the following years. He ran unsuccessfully again in 1926, but won the Democratic nomination in 1932. He defeated incumbent Tasker Oddie, and became Nevada's first native-born U.S. Senator.  During his time in the Senate, McCarran served chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Economic Cooperation, and chairman of the Judiciary Committee during the 78th , 79th, 81st, and 83rd Congresses. He served in the Senate from 1933 to 1954, when he passed away in Hawthorne, Nevada.

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Frederick Van Nuys (1874 – 1944)

Born in Falmouth, Indiana, in 1874, Frederick Van Nuys attended Earlham College. After completing his undergraduate degree, Van Nuys earned a Juris Doctorate from Indiana Law School in 1900. He opened his own law practice, and became the prosecuting attorney of Madison County. Van Nuys was elected to the Indiana State Senate in 1913, where he eventually served as President Pro-Tempore. After serving in the State Senate, Van Nuys became the U.S. Attorney for the district of Indiana, and then in 1932 he was elected to the United States Senate. The Senator was reelected to the Senate in 1938 and served until his death in 1944. He served as the 32nd Chairman of the Judiciary Committee from 1941 to 1944.

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Henry F. Ashurst (1874 – 1962)

Henry F. Ashurst served as the 31st Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1933 to 1941. Ashurst was born in Nevada in 1874, and moved with his family to Arizona in 1875. Growing up, he educated himself and studied law on his own. He went on to study at Stockton Business College in California, and University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  He then returned to Arizona to practice law. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1912, after Arizona was admitted to the Union. He was reelected four times and served from 1912 to 1941. He left public life in 1943, and died in Washington, D.C., in 1962.

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George W. Norris (1861 – 1944)

George W. Norris served as the 30th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1926 to 1933. Born in 1861 near Clyde Sandusky County, Ohio, Norris graduated from the law department of Valparaiso University in Indiana. He was the county attorney of Furnas County, Nebraska, for three terms and later served as a district court judge. Norris was elected from Nebraska to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1903 to 1913. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1912, and reelected four times.  While on the Senate, Norris served as Chairman of the Committee on the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians, Committee on Patents, Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, and the Committee on the Judiciary. He became known as the "father of the Tennessee Valley Authority" for his role in authoring the legislation that created the Authority. The first of the project's dams was named after Norris. Norris retired from public life in 1943 after unsuccessfully running for a sixth term in the Senate. In 1944, Norris died in McCook, Nebraska.

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Albert B. Cummins (1850 – 1926)

Albert B. Cummins was as a Republican Senator from Iowa. He was born near Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, on February 15, 1850. He attended Waynesburg College for three years and then spent time in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. After leaving school, he worked as a carpenter, on a railroad building crew, and as a clerk in the Office of the Recorder of Clayton County, Iowa. Cummins then studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1875. He first began practicing law in Chicago, but in 1878, he returned to Des Moines. Cummins was elected to the Iowa State House of Representatives, where he served from 1888 to 1890. In 1902, Cummins ran for Governor of Iowa, and served from 1902 to 1908, when he elected to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator William B. Allison. He served from 1908 until his death in 1926, in Des Moines, Iowa. During his tenure, Cummins served as the 29th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1924 until his death the following summer. He also served as President Pro-Tempore of the Senate from 1919 to 1925.

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Frank B. Brandegee (1864 – 1924)

A graduate of Yale College and a member of the Connecticut bar, Frank B. Brandegee began his political career when he was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1888. He resigned his position after becoming the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives in order to become a member in the United States House of Representatives. He was elected to the Senate in 1905 from Connecticut to fill the vacancy left by Orville Platt. Brandegee was the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate during the 62nd Congress. He was reelected three times and served in the Senate until his death in 1924. Brandegee served as the 28th Chairman of the Judiciary Committee from 1923 to 1924.

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Knute Nelson (1843 – 1923)

Knute Nelson served as the 27th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1919 to 1923. Nelson was born in Norway in 1843, and immigrated to the United States in 1849. He grew up in Wisconsin, and served in the Wisconsin Volunteer Army during the Civil War, during which he was wounded and taken prisoner in Louisiana. After the war he completed his education at Albion College in Wisconsin, and began practicing law. Nelson continued his political career in Minnesota, and he served as a U.S. Representative from Minnesota from 1883 to 1889. He then served as Governor of Minnesota from 1892 to 1895 until he resigned after being elected as a U.S. Senator. He served in the Senate from 1895 to 1923. Nelson was still in office when he died on a train en route to his home in Minnesota in 1923.

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Charles A. Culberson (1855 – 1925)

Charles A. Culberson (son of Representative David Browning Culberson) served as the 26th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1912 to 1919. Born in 1855 in Dadeville, Alabama, Culberson graduated from the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington and studied law at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. He was the Attorney General of Texas from 1890 to 1894, when he became the state governor.  Culberson was elected from Texas to the U.S. Senate in 1899 and reelected three times, serving until 1923. While in the Senate, he served as the Chairman for the Committee on Additional Accommodations for the Library, Committee on Public Health and National Quarantine, Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Private Land Claims. After unsuccessfully running for reelection in 1922, Culberson lived in retirement until his death in 1925.

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Clarence D. Clark (1851 – 1930)

Clarence D. Clark was a Republican Senator from Wyoming and the 25th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was born in Sandy Creek, New York, and attended the University of Iowa.  He was admitted to the bar in 1874, and began practicing law in Manchester, Iowa. In 1881, Clark moved to Evanston, Wyoming. From 1882 to 1884, Clark served as the prosecuting attorney for Uinta County, Wyoming. Clark also served as a delegate to the Wyoming State Constitutional Convention in 1889. Upon Wyoming's admission to the Union in 1890, Clark was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served from 1890 to 1893. He was defeated in his bid for reelection in 1892, but was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1895 in a special election. Clark served from 1895 to 1917. He was unsuccessful in his bid for reelection in 1916 and resumed private legal practice in Washington, D.C.  Clark served as the 25th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1905 to 1913. Following his career in the Senate, Clark was appointed to serve as a member of the International Joint Commission, which was created to address water boundary issues between the United States and Canada. He served as Chairman of the United States section of the Commission from 1923 to 1929, when he retired from public life. He returned to Wyoming where he lived until his death in 1930.

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Orville H. Platt (1827 – 1905)

After graduating from the Gunnery in Washington, Connecticut, and studying law in Litchfield, Orville H. Platt was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1850. He soon became engaged in politics in Connecticut, serving as Clerk of the Connecticut Senate, Secretary of State of Connecticut, Member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, Member of the Connecticut Senate, and Speaker of the House of Connecticut. Platt was elected to the Senate in 1879, where he served until his death in 1905. During his time in the Senate, he became an extremely influential member of the body and was highly influential in forming America's policy toward Cuba after the Spanish-American War. He served as the 24th Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

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James L. Pugh (1820 – 1907)

James L. Pugh served as the 22nd Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1893 to 1895. He was born in Burke County, Georgia, in 1821, and he grew up in Alabama. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representative from Alabama in 1858, and he served in Congress until 1861. He fought in the Civil War as a private with the Eufaula Rifles, First Alabama Regiment, and he was elected to the Confederate Congress in 1861 and 1863. After the war, and following the death of George Houston of Alabama, Pugh was elected to the U.S. Senate and served from 1880 to 1897. He retired in Washington, D.C., where he died in 1907.

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George F. Hoar (1826 – 1904)

George F. Hoar served as the 21st and 23rd Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1891 to 1893 and 1895 to 1903. Born in 1826 in Concord, Massachusetts, Hoar graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He was elected to the Massachusetts State House of Representatives in 1852 and the Massachusetts State Senate in 1857. Hoar was then elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1869, where he remained until 1877, when he secured a seat in the U.S. Senate. While in the Senate, Hoar served as Chairman of the Committee on Privileges and Elections, Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on the Library. Along with Senator George Edmunds, Hoar authored the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. He remained in the Senate until his death in 1904.

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Allen G. Thurman (1813 – 1895)

Allen G. Thurman was a Democratic Senator from Ohio. He was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, on November 13, 1813.  In 1819, he relocated with his family to Chillicothe, Ohio. There he attended Chillicothe Academy, which was managed by his mother. At age 21, Thurman served as personal secretary to Ohio governor Robert Lucas. He also studied law under the guidance of his uncle, William Thurman, who would later become a United States Senator from Ohio. Thurman was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1835, and began practicing thereafter in Ross County, Ohio. In 1844, he was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives and served from 1845 to 1847. In 1847 he chose not to run again, opting instead to resume private legal practice.  In 1851, Thurman became an Associate Justice and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, serving from 1851 to 1856.  He was elected to the United States Senate as a Democrat in 1868 and would serve from 1869 to 1881. While in the Senate, he was appointed to the Electoral Commission that was formed to settle the disputed 1876 presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden. Thurman became the 19th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, serving from 1879 to 1881.  Thurman died on December 12, 1895 in Columbus, Ohio.

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George F. Edmunds (1828 – 1919)

After his admittance to the Vermont bar, George F. Edmunds turned towards a career in politics when he was first elected to the Vermont House of Representatives. He was elected to be Speaker of the Vermont House and then moved to the Vermont Senate where he served as President Pro-Tempore. Mr. Edmunds was appointed to the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Vermont, and was reelected five times. He unsuccessfully tried for the Republican nomination for President 1880 and 1884. While in the Senate, he was President Pro-Tempore from 1883 to 1885 and helped co-author the Sherman Antitrust Act. He left the Senate in 1891 to concentrate on his law practice, and then retired to California. Edmunds served as the 18th Chairman of the Judiciary Committee from 1872 and 1879 and 20th Chairman from 1881 to 1891.

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Lyman Trumbull (1813 – 1896)

Lyman Trumbull served as the 17th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1861 to 1872. He was born in Colchester, Connecticut, in 1813, and he grew up and studied law there. He practiced law in Georgia and Illinois, where he was elected to the State House of Representatives.  He also served as Secretary of State for Illinois and as a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court.  He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1854, but before his term began, he was elected to a vacant sea in the U.S. Senate. Trumbull served as a U.S. Senator from Illinois for 18 years, from 1855 to 1873, before returning to his law practice in 1873. During his time as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified. He died in Chicago, Illinois, in 1896.

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James A. Bayard, Jr. (1799 – 1880)

James A. Bayard, Jr. (son of Senator James Asheton Bayard Sr.) served as the 16th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1857 to 1861. Born in 1799 in Wilmington, Delaware, Bayard pursued classical studies and law. He served as a U.S. Attorney for Delaware from 1838-1843 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1851. Bayard was reelected in 1857 and 1863. During his tenure on the Senate, Bayard served as the Chairman of the Committee on Engrossed Bills, Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads, Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds.  Bayard resigned from the Senate in 1864 to practice law in Wilmington. He returned to the Senate in 1867 to fill the vacancy of George Read Riddle and was then elected as a Democrat to that position. At the end of his term in 1869, Bayard returned to Wilmington to practice law. Bayard died in Wilmington in 1880.

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Andrew P. Butler (1796 – 1857)

Andrew P. Butler was a Democratic Senator from South Carolina. He was born on November 18, 1796, in Edgefield, South Carolina, the son of William Butler, a U.S. House of Representative. Butler was educated at Doctor Waddell's Academy in Willington, South Carolina, and in 1817 he graduated from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina). He then studied law and was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1818. Butler practiced privately throughout South Carolina, until he was elected to the South Carolina State House of Representatives. In 1824 he was elected to the South Carolina State Senate, where he served until 1833. Butler was then appointed as a state judge, a position he would hold until 1846, when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate as a States' Rights Democrat to fill a vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator George McDuffie.  During his tenure in the Senate, Butler served as the 15th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, from 1848 to 1857. He would serve in the Senate from 1846 until his death near his hometown of Edgefield, South Carolina, on May 25, 1857.

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Chester Ashley (1791 – 1848)

After graduating from Williams College and studying law in Connecticut, Chester Ashley settled in Arkansas. He quickly became one of the most prominent attorneys in the area, and his law firm grew to become the largest in the Arkansas Territory.  Ashley campaigned for James Polk's presidential bid and was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Arkansas legislature. Ashley served as the 14th Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary from 1845 to 1847.

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Garret D. Wall (1783 – 1850)

Garret D. Wall (father of Senator James Walter Wall) served as the 12th Chairman of the Senate Judiciary from 1838 to 1841. Born in 1783 in Middletown, New Jersey, Wall studied law and began practicing in 1807. He served in the War of 1812, commanding a volunteer regiment from Trenton. Wall served as New Jersey's Quartermaster General from 1815-1837 and was a member of the State General Assembly in 1827. He became a U.S. District Attorney for N.J. in 1829 and ran for governor in the same year. Despite winning the election, Wall declined to serve.  In 1835, Wall was elected to the U.S. Senate and served until 1841. While in the Senate, he served as Chairman for the Committee on the Militia, Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Military Affairs. Wall went on to become a judge of the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals from 1848 until his death in Burlington, New Jersey, in 1850.

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Felix Grundy (1777 – 1840)

Felix Grundy was born on September 11, 1777, in Berkeley County, Virginia.  His family soon relocated, first to Pennsylvania and then to Kentucky. He was educated both at home and at Bardstown Academy in Bardstown, Kentucky. Upon completing his primary education, he studied law in Lexington, and was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1795. He began practicing law soon thereafter in Louisville.  Grundy began his political career in 1800, when he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives, where he would serve until 1805. In 1806, he was chosen as a judge for the Supreme Court of Kentucky and in 1807, he was made chief justice of that court. He soon resigned and moved to Nashville, where he practiced law again. Grundy quickly re-entered politics in his new state, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He would serve from 1811 until 1814, when he resigned.  In 1829, Grundy was elected to the U.S. Senate when he was chosen to replace Senator John H. Eaton. He would serve as a Senator from Tennessee from 1829 until 1838, when he was accepted an appointment from President Martin Van Buren to serve as the Attorney General of the United States. He chose to resign from this post when he was elected to return to Senate.  He served as the 11th Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, during the 24th and 25th Congresses. He would continue to serve until his death on December 19, 1840, in Nashville.

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John M. Clayton (1796 – 1856)

The nephew of a former Governor of Delaware and the cousin of a prominent U.S. Senator, John M. Clayton began his political career as a State Representative in the Delaware Statehouse. He moved on to become the Secretary of State of Delaware and then a judge on the Delaware Superior Court. Clayton was first elected to the United States Senate in 1829, but left to become the Secretary of State for the United States under President Zachary Taylor. He returned to the Senate where he stayed until his death in 1859. Senator Clayton served as the 10th Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary from 1833 to 1836.

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William Wilkins (1779 – 1865)

William Wilkins served as the ninth Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1832 to 1833. He was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1779, attended Dickinson College and practiced law in the state. He became a judge of the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania in 1824, and he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1830. He resigned in 1834 to serve as the U.S. Minister to Russia. Wilkins was elected to the House of Representatives in 1842 and served from 1843 to 1844, during which time he served as Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary. He remains the only person to have presided over both the Senate and the House Judiciary Committees. After he resigned from Congress in 1844, he served in President John Tyler's cabinet as Secretary of War. Wilkins died in 1865, and he is buried in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, which was named after him.

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William L. Marcy (1786 – 1857)

William L. Marcy served as the eighth Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1831 to 1832. Born in 1786 in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, Marcy attended Brown University and was admitted to the bar in 1811. Shortly after beginning a law practice in New York, he served in the War of 1812. He later went on to become the New York State Comptroller, associate justice of the State Supreme Court, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1831. Marcy remained in the Senate until 1833 when he resigned to become Governor of New York.  In 1845, President James Polk appointed Marcy to the position of Secretary of War. He was later appointed as Secretary of State by President Franklin Pierce in 1853. In 1857, Marcy died in Ballston Spa, New York.

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John Rowan (1773 – 1843)

Senator John Rowan was born near York, Pennsylvania, on July 12, 1773. In 1783, his family relocated to Louisville, Kentucky. He studied law in Lexington under the direction of George Nicholas, Kentucky's first Attorney General. Rowan was admitted to the bar in 1795.  In 1801, he was charged with murder after he killed Dr. James Chambers in a duel that was fought to settle a dispute over which man had greater mastery of the classical languages. Rowan was eventually acquitted.  In 1804, he was appointed Kentucky's Secretary of State by Governor Christopher Greenup. He held this position until 1806, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Kentucky's third electoral district, where he served only one term.  After a brief hiatus, Rowan re-entered politics in 1813, when he was elected to Kentucky's State House of Representatives, where he served from 1813-1817 and again in 1822 and 1824. Rowan was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1824 and he served from 1825 to 1831. He served as the seventh Chairman of the Judiciary Committee during the 21st Congress.

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John Macpherson Berrien (1781 – 1856)

After graduating from Princeton and studying law in Savannah, John Macpherson Berrien was admitted to the Georgia bar at the age of eighteen. He took a break from his law practice for a brief time to join the Georgia Hussars during the War of 1812. Berrien began his political career as a State Senator in Georgia and then represented Georgia as a member of the U.S. Senate. He resigned to become the United States Attorney General under President Jackson. Returning to his law practice in the interim years, Berrien was again elected to the Senate in 1841. Receiving an appointment to the Supreme Court of Georgia, Berrien again resigned his position in the Senate. Ultimately, Berrien returned to the Senate, where he tendered his final resignation in 1852.  He served as the sixth and 13th Chairman of Senate Committee on the Judiciary in the 20th, 26th, and 27th Congresses.

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Martin Van Buren (1782 – 1862)

Martin Van Buren served as the fifth Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1823 to 1828. Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York, in 1782 and where he was raised and practiced law. He was elected as a U.S. Senator from New York in 1821 and he served until he resigned in 1828 after being elected Governor of New York. One year later, he resigned from that post to serve in President Andrew Jackson's cabinet, and he went on to become Jackson's Vice President.  Van Buren was elected as the eighth President of the United States in 1836. He retired from his political career after his unsuccessful bids for re-election in 1840 and 1848, and he died in his hometown of Kinderhook, New York in 1862.

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William Smith (1762 – 1840)

William Smith served as the fourth Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Born in 1762 in North Carolina, Smith studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1784. He was elected to the South Carolina State Senate in 1802, and served as Senate President from 1806-1808. Following his term in office, Smith sat on the South Carolina Circuit Court until 1816 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy of John Taylor. He was simultaneously elected for the following term. Smith served as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee from 1819 to 1823 when he unsuccessfully ran for a second term in the Senate.  Smith went on to serve in South Carolina's State House of Representatives and returned to the U.S. Senate in 1826 to fill the vacancy of John Gaillard. He served the Senate until 1831.  Smith was later elected to the South Carolina Senate and the Alabama House of Representatives.  In 1840, Smith died at his estate "Calhoun Place," in Maysville Pike, Alabama.

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James Burrill, Jr. (1772 – 1820)

James Burrill, Jr. was born on April 25, 1772 in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in 1788. He studied law and was admitted to the Rhode Island bar in 1791. Burrill practiced law in Providence until 1797, when he was elected Attorney General of Rhode Island at the age of twenty-five. He would serve until 1814, when he was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives. He served as Speaker of the House from 1814- to 1816. In 1816, he became chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, a position he would hold until 1817 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.  Senator Burrill began his tenure in Congress on March 4, 1817, but would attend only four sessions before he died on December 25, 1820, from a pulmonary disease at the age of 49. He served as the third chairman of Judiciary Committee from 1818 to1819. Senator Burrill is interned in the Congressional Cemetery.

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John J. Crittenden (1786 – 1863)

Accepting a sabbatical to serve in the Kentucky Militia during the War of 1812, John J. Crittenden was a career lawyer and politician. He began his political career after being admitted to the bar as a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1811. He was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the Senate by the Governor of Kentucky but was recalled when it was discovered that he was only 27-years-old, three years short of the constitutional minimum age. He returned to the Kentucky House of Representatives where he was elected as Speaker.  In 1817, the Kentucky General Assembly elected him to the Senate, and he became the second Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He went on to serve as Secretary of State of Kentucky, as a United States District Attorney, Governor of Kentucky and United States Attorney General under President Martin Van Buren and President Millard Fillmore. He was also nominated to the United States Supreme Court by President Adams but the Senate refused to confirm him. He ended his political career in a return to the Senate to fill the vacancy left by Henry Clay. On different occasions, Crittenden held each of Kentucky's seats in the Senate twice.

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Dudley Chase (1771 – 1846)

Dudley Chase served as the first Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1816 to 1817. He was born in Cornish, New Hampshire, in 1771, and he graduated from Dartmouth College in 1791. After practicing law and entering politics in Vermont, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1813, and became the first Chairman of the newly created Committee on the Judiciary in 1816. After resigning from the Senate in 1817, Senator Chase went on to serve as Chief Justice of the Vermont state Supreme Court from 1817 to 1821, as a representative in the Vermont State Legislature 1823-1824, and he was reelected to the U.S. Senate in 1825. He left public life after his term expired in 1831, and he died in 1846 in Randolph Center, Vermont.  There are no known photographs or portraits of Senator Chase.

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