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John W. Davis


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(b. Clarksburg, West Virginia, 13 Apr. 1873; d. Charleston, South Carolina, 24 Mar. 1955)

US; lawyer, diplomat, and presidential nominee The son of a lawyer, Davis spent much of his own career in private legal practice. His period as Woodrow Wilson's Solicitor-General (1913–18) and his own private legal practice (as head of the New York firm of Davis, Polk) gave him an unrivalled experience of arguing before the Supreme Court. His career was not entirely that of a lawyer, however. In 1918 he became United States ambassador in London and, in 1924, as a result of a deadlocked convention, Davis secured the Democratic nomination on the 103rd ballot. In the presidential election of 1924 Davis lost overwhelmingly to Calvin Coolidge. Davis returned to legal practice and only briefly engaged in further political activity. In 1928 he supported the Democratic candidate Alfred Smith but in 1934 he helped to found the American Liberty League, an organization opposed to the New Deal. Although he had been a Democratic presidential candidate and was an opponent of isolationism, Davis supported Republican presidential candidates after 1928.

Davis's legal skills were highly regarded and during his long career he argued an extremely large number and range of constitutional cases before the Supreme Court. He was involved in many of the key anti-New Deal cases in the 1930s and in 1952 he was counsel for the steel industry in the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co v. Sawyer case, arguing that President Truman's seizure of the steel mills had been unconstitutional. Davis's opposition to school integration and his conservative approach to legal interpretation made him a fierce critic of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, a case in which he had argued for the constitutionality of the separate but equal doctrine.

Subjects: Social sciencesPolitics

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