Friday, November 3, 2017

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Sullivan … and Women's Suffrage [otd 11/03]

Justice Sullivan. Illustrated History.
The state of Idaho’s first Chief Justice, Isaac Newton Sullivan, was born on November 3, 1848, in Iowa, midway between Waterloo and Dubuque. After high school he studied at a college in Michigan and then in a judge's law office in Iowa. He was admitted to the bar of Iowa in 1879 and moved to Hailey, Idaho two years later.

Besides his law practice, Sullivan invested in a number of valuable mining claims as well as farm and ranch land around Hailey. His success in law and business led to his election in 1890 to one of the three positions on the Supreme Court of the just-created state of Idaho. The new state’s constitution called for the justices to serve staggered six-year terms, one being up for re-election every two years.

As a startup mechanism, they “cast lots” to determine who would serve a full term, who four years, and who only two. Sullivan “drew the short straw” for the shortest term. However, by another constitutional provision, the justice with the shortest time remaining on his term was designated as the Chief Justice – so Sullivan ascended to that office. (The number of justices would later increase to 5, and the Chief Justice is now selected by majority vote of the justices.)

After his short two-year term, Sullivan was immediately re-elected to the Court. Even his switch from traditional Republican to Silver Republican for the 1898 election did not hinder yet another re-election.

Naturally, those early Justices made many important decisions and set many legal precedents for the State. Few decisions were more historic than one rendered in December 1896. During that year’s election, a women’s suffrage amendment had passed handily, with almost a two-to-one margin. However, many balloters had ignored the amendment measure, so the “for” votes (12,126) were not a majority of the total votes cast (29,697). Thus, the election board disallowed its passage.

In the subsequent court challenge, the Supreme Court ruled that the board had erred in its ruling. Sullivan, who was not then Chief Justice, joined in the unanimous decision that sustained the amendment’s passage.
Susan B. Anthony, abt 1890-1910.
Library of Congress.

That judgement became a highlight of the 1897 national women’s suffrage convention in Des Moines, Iowa. Susan B. Anthony first declared that courts nationwide had always “put the narrowest possible construction” on the election laws, and most would have surely supported the Board's annulment.

Then she went on, “The Judges of Idaho did themselves the honor to make a decision in direct opposition to judicial precedent and prejudice. The Idaho victory is a great credit not only to the majority of men who voted for the amendment, but to the three Judges who made this broad and just decision.”

Sullivan served over a quarter century on the Idaho Supreme Court, He retired in 1916, at the age of 68, after losing his re-election bid (Idaho Statesman, December 31, 1916). Sullivan divided his time between law practices in Hailey and Boise for awhile, but moved permanently to Boise around 1919 or 1920. He remained in that city until his death in January 1938.
References: [Hawley], [illust-State]
Susan B. Anthony, Ida H. Harper (eds.), The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol IV: 1883-1900, The Hollenbeck Press, Indianapolis (© Susan B. Anthony, 1902).

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