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Stanbery, Henry

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Significance: Perhaps the most gifted and well-liked U.S. attorney general in U.S. history, Stanbery had his nomination to the Supreme Court blocked by the Radical Republicans in Congress, who had failed in their effort to impeach President Andrew Johnson.


An 1819 graduate of Washington College in Pennsylvania (later Washington and Jefferson College), Stanbery became one of Ohio's most respected attorneys before assuming the position of attorney general of the United States in 1866. He resigned in 1868 to serve as President Andrew Johnson's chief counsel during the impeachment proceedings initiated by the Radical Republicans. President Johnson rewarded Stanbery for his successful defense by appointing him to the Supreme Court as a replacement for Justice John Catron, who had died in 1865. Congress not only failed to act on the Stanbery nomination but also passed a bill that abolished the position on the Court previously occupied by Catron, reducing the Court from ten to nine justices. The law included a proviso stipulating that the next vacancy on the Court also be eliminated, reducing the number to eight justices. Congress's action was intended to block the Stanbery nomination and future Johnson nominations to the Court while increasing the voice of the Lincoln appointees. As a result, when Justice James M. Wayne died in 1867, that vacancy was also eliminated by statute.