Judicial knight errant: Walter Clark and the long Progressive era in North Carolina

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
John James Kaiser (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Mark Elliott

Abstract: From 1889-1924 Walter Clark served on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Clark, the son of a wealthy slaveholding eastern North Carolina family, emerged as a force for progressive change in North Carolina law and politics. During Justice Clark's tenure on the North Carolina Supreme Court (Associate Justice, 1889-1902; Chief Justice 1903-1924) he forged a progressive jurisprudence that defied the traditional perception of the judiciary as a conservative bulwark against reform and instead promoted labor rights, women's rights, and public regulation. Clark's often controversial judicial decisions and political positions led to conflict with the state's railroad interests, textile mills, and even the wealthy Duke family. While Clark's activism often pushed the limits of acceptable political engagement by a sitting Supreme Court justice, he was continuously reelected to the North Carolina Supreme Court up until his death in 1924. Clark's judicial and political career provides insight into progressive politics in North Carolina history. Early twentieth century progressives in North Carolina enacted moderate reforms in education, child labor, women's rights, and utility regulation through the legislature. Yet Chief Justice Clark offers us a popular political figure whose views pushed for much greater reform. Clark, through legal and political means, influenced Supreme Court opinions and legislation that protected North Carolina's laborers from workplace injury, limited child labor in the industrial workplace, expanded property and voting rights to women in North Carolina, and pushed for active public regulation of private utility companies. These changes can be attributed to the unique way in which Clark used the usually conservative courts as a means of influencing the legislature toward embracing progressive change. Although in the age of segregation and disfranchisement, Clark's progressivism did not extend to black citizens, and his support of white supremacy may be one reason why his other egalitarian reforms have gone unappreciated. While Clark did not live to see many of the transformations of law and politics he hoped to see enacted, his influence can be seen in many progressive changes in North Carolina both during and after his life.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
Courts, Law, North Carolina Supreme Court, Progressivism, Southern Progressivism, Walter Clark
Clark, Walter, $d 1846-1924
North Carolina $b Supreme Court $x History
Judges $z North Carolina
Law $x Social aspects $z North Carolina $x History
North Carolina $x Politics and government $y 1865-1950

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