About William Henry Moody, U.S. Secretary of the Navy and Attorney General, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
William Henry Moody (December 23, 1853 – July 2, 1917) was an American politician and jurist, who held positions in all three branches of the Government of the United States.
Born a son of farmers in Newbury, Massachusetts, Moody graduated from Phillips Academy in 1872 and from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappa in 1876, where he was a classmate and friend of future President Theodore Roosevelt. After 4 months attending Harvard Law School, he departed and instead took the then-common but now-unusual step of reading law under Richard Henry Dana, Jr. to pass the bar.
Early in his legal career, Moody first was elected city solicitor of Haverhill in 1888. After appointment as the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Massachusetts in 1890, he gained widespread notoriety in 1893 as the junior prosecutor in the Lizzie Borden murder case. While his efforts were unsuccessful he was generally acknowledged as the most competent and effective of the attorneys on either side. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, and served from 1895 until 1902 where he served on the powerful Appropriations Committee. During President Theodore Roosevelt's administration, Moody served as the Secretary of Navy (1902–1904) and as Attorney General (1904–1906). As Attorney General, Moody actively followed Roosevelt's trust-busting policies, negotiating with 'good' trusts like U.S. Steel but prosecuting 'bad' ones like Standard Oil. After failing to convince William Howard Taft to take the seat, on December 12, 1906, Roosevelt nominated Moody as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and Moody was confirmed December 17, 1906.
Moody's service on the Court was brief but not uneventful, writing 67 opinions and 5 dissents. His most noted opinion was in the minority in Employers Liability Cases (1908), where he held that Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce included the ability to legislate management's relationship with employees. While he generally supported enhanced federal powers, opinions as Twining v. New Jersey (1908), where he held that the Fifth Amendment's protection against compulsory self-incrimination did not apply to cases presented in state courts, made him hard to pigeonhole. He also wrote for a unanimous court in the famous case of Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. v. Mottley, which limited federal question jurisdiction to cases in which the plaintiff's cause of action was based on federal law.
By 1908, Moody suffered severe rheumatism. This affected Moody to such an extent that his last sitting on the bench was May 7, 1909, when he left for a brief rest and never returned. With the age- and health-enfeebled Supreme Court of 1909 crippled (President William Howard Taft was to make a record-setting 5 appointments due to death and resignations over a course of a single year in 1910-1911), Taft urged Moody, then the youngest justice at 55, to step down. After Taft successfully lobbied Congress for a Special Act to grant Moody retirement benefits not normally granted unless justices reached age 70 or 10 years of service (enacted June 23, 1910), Moody retired from the Court on November 20, 1910. He died in Haverhill, Massachusetts, July 2, 1917.
After Moody's death, some of his official papers were placed in the custody of Professor Felix Frankfurter, then of Harvard Law School. They are now in the collection of Frankfurter's papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.
USS Moody (DD-277) was named for him.