About William Johnson, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
William Johnson (December 17 or December 27, 1771 - August 4, 1834) was a state legislator and judge in South Carolina, and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1804 to his death in 1834.
Youth and early career
Johnson was born in Charleston. His father, William Johnson, was a revolutionary, and represented Charleston in the general assembly of South Carolina. The elder Johnson was deported by Sir Henry Clinton to St. Augustine with other distinguished patriots of South Carolina. His mother, Sarah Johnson, née Nightingale, was also a revolutionary. "During the siege of Charleston, [she quilted] her petticoats with cartridges, which she thus conveyed to her husband in the trenches." The younger Johnson studied law at Princeton and graduated with an A.B. in 1790. He read law in the office of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney before passing the bar in 1793. In 1794, he married Sarah Bennett. They had at least one child, Anna Hayes Johnson, who was the second wife of Romulus Mitchell Saunders and mother of Jane Claudia Saunders Johnson (wife of General Bradley Tyler Johnson, Confederate Civil War General from Maryland.)
Work as a legislator
Johnson followed in his father's footsteps, representing the city of Charleston (and the nascent Democratic-Republican Party) in the state's house of representatives from 1794-1798. In 1796, he was selected as the speaker of the state house. In 1798, the formation of the state's highest court created a demand for judges, and Johnson was one of those selected to the position.
Appointment to the Court
Johnson was nominated to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court by Thomas Jefferson on March 22, 1804, as the successor of Alfred Moore. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 24, 1804, and received his commission on March 26, 1804. He was the first of Jefferson's three appointments to the court, and is considered to have been selected for sharing many of Jefferson's beliefs about the Constitution. Johnson was the first member of the U.S. Supreme Court that was not a member of the Federalist Party.
Independent judicial mind
In his years on the Court, Johnson proved to be a very independent mind - while the Chief Justice, John Marshall, was able to steer the opinions of most of the justices in most cases, Johnson developed a reputation for dissent. Johnson's independence was further displayed in 1808 when he defied the orders of the collector of the port of Charleston, the United States Attorney General Caesar A. Rodney, and President Thomas Jefferson (the very man who had nominated Johnson to his position), because he felt that the executive branch's control of maritime trade was an overextension of its constitutional powers. Much later in his service on the court, during the Nullification Crisis in South Carolina from 1831–1833, Johnson again displayed his desire for independent thought by moving away from his residence in South Carolina, so as not to be swayed by the intensity of public opinion there.
Johnson died in 1834 in New York after surgery on his jaw.