Harlan, John Marshall, 1833–1911, American jurist, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1877–1911), b. Boyle co., Ky., grad. Centre College, 1850. Admitted to the bar in 1853, he served in the Civil War as a colonel in the Union army until 1863, when he became attorney general of Kentucky. He took a leading part in the violent political struggles of the day, becoming after the war a leader of the conservative Republicans; he was defeated for the governorship, however, in 1872 and 1875. As head of the Kentucky delegation to the Republican national convention in 1876, he played a leading role in the nomination of Rutherford B. Hayes. In Oct., 1877, Hayes appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A man of strong and independent convictions and, on the whole, a strict constructionist, Harlan became known as a dissenter. In the "insular cases" (1901) he protested against the decision that denied the residents of the new U.S. possessions the national benefits of the Constitution. He upheld the police power of the states, dissented in the civil-rights cases (1883) and the income-tax case (1894), and argued that the court had no right to read the word unreasonable into the Sherman Act in the decisions against the Standard Oil and American Tobacco trusts. A firm defender of civil liberties and civil rights, Justice Harlan dissented vigorously in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), in which the Supreme Court enunciated the "separate but equal" doctrine justifying segregation. In 1893, President Benjamin Harrison appointed him to the tribunal to settle the Bering Sea Fur-Seal Controversy (see under Bering Sea) at Paris.
See the memoirs of his wife, M. S. Harlan, Some Memories of a Long Life, 1854–1911 (2002); F. B. Clark, The Constitutional Doctrines of Justice Harlan (1915); F. Latham, The Great Dissenter (1970).
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