Justice John Marshall Harlan: Professor of Law

Brian L. Frye, Josh Blackman, Michael McCloskey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


From 1889 to 1910, while serving on the United States Supreme Court, the first Justice John Marshall Harlan taught at the Columbian College of Law, which became the George Washington University School of Law. For two decades, he primarily taught working-class evening students in classes as diverse as property, torts, conflicts of law, jurisprudence, domestic relations, commercial law, evidence-and most significantly-constitutional law.

Harlan's lectures on constitutional law would have been lost to history, but for the enterprising initiative-and remarkable note-taking-of one of Harlan's students, George Johannes. During the 1897-98 academic year, George Johannes and a classmate transcribed verbatim the twenty-seven lectures Justice Harlan delivered on constitutional law. In 1955, Johannes sent the transcripts to the second Justice Harlan. The papers were ultimately deposited in the Library of Congress. Though much attention has been given to the life and jurisprudence of Justice Harlan, his lectures have been largely ignored.

Harlan's lectures are a treasure trove of insights into his jurisprudence, as well as the state of constitutional law at the turn of the 20th century. They provide the unique opportunity to listen in as one of our greatest Justices lectures on the precipice of a constitutional revolution that he helped create. In this article, we use the lectures to paint a picture of who Justice Harlan was, what he believed, how he sought to impart that knowledge to the future lawyers of America, and how he predicted many of the changes in constitutional law that occurred during the 20th century.

This article, published along with the annotated transcript of all twenty seven lectures and written on the centennial of Justice Harlan's death, is a tribute to one of the giants of the law, and his contribution to legal education.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1063-1134
JournalGeorge Washington Law Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2013


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