Friday, January 27, 2017

Educator, Attorney, and Supreme Court Justice John Rice [otd 01/27]

Judge Rice.
John Campbell Rice Foundation photo.
January 27, 1864, Idaho Supreme Court Justice John Campbell Rice was born on a farm in Cass County, Illinois, about thirty miles west of Springfield. After high school, he attended Illinois College, in Jacksonville (not far south of where Rice was born). He graduated in 1885 and began teaching mathematics at the college.

Three years later, he enrolled in law school, first at Michigan State University and then Cornell University. He received his law degree from Cornell in 1890.

John T. Morrison, a fellow student at Cornell, had previously met Presbyterian minister William Judson Boone. Boone moved to Caldwell, Idaho in 1887, and Morrison followed him there during the summer of 1890.

John Rice joined Morrison in Caldwell that fall, and they became partners in a law practice. When Boone founded the College of Idaho [blog, Nov 5], the partners both served as instructors there for two years. Rice taught Greek and mathematics, and later, economics.

Some years later, they found themselves in an odd position. The legislature upgraded Caldwell from “town” to “city” status. But the old town Board of Trustees successfully challenged the designation, and the election of a Mayor and City Council. John Morrison, the newly appointed City Attorney, was also a town Trustee and recused himself when the new Council appealed the District Court ruling. So the Council hired Rice, who won the appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. (Idaho Statesman, June 25, 1897).

In 1897, Rice was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. During his term he served as chairman of the judiciary committee. That legislature passed an Act to authorize the creation of a state Board of Arbitration to handle labor disputes. Another Act provided for the creation of irrigation districts to regularize the allotment of water rights.

After that, he was elected to the Caldwell city council, and served as mayor in 1902. His time as mayor corresponded roughly to the period when he relinquished the presidency of the Commercial Bank of Caldwell. Rice, along with several partners, including Albert K. Steunenberg [blog, Sept 11], had founded the bank in 1895. He resumed the presidency in 1907 and continued in that position until at least 1920.

He had other active business connections in Caldwell and around the state. Besides holdings in western Idaho, he helped organize the First National Bank of Saint Anthony, all the way across the state.
College of Idaho campus, ca. 1900. College of Idaho.
Rice also continued his involvement with the College of Idaho, although he no longer taught there. He had been among the principals when the College was incorporated in 1893 as a legal entity, separate from the Presbyterian Church. Rice remained a Trustee of the College through its darkest days in the Great Depression. (He was, in fact, chairman of the Board of Trustees when he died.)

Rice was first elected to the Idaho Supreme Court in 1916, and remained there until 1923. He thus served through the turmoil related to World War I, and the implementation of national Prohibition under the Eighteenth Amendment. He was also there when voters amended the state constitution to expand the Supreme Court from three members to five.

After another period in private practice, he was appointed to be a district court judge, a position he held when he passed away in November 1937.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Louie W. Attebery, The College of Idaho, 1891-1991: A Centennial History. © The College of Idaho, Caldwell (1991).
“John T. Morrison,” Reference Series No. 404, Idaho State Historical Society (September 1996).
"Necrology: John Campbell Rice,” Cornell Alumni News, Ithaca, New York (December 16, 1937).

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