Horace Gray was born and raised in Massachusetts. He traveled abroad following his graduation from Harvard College. He had to cut short his travels when the family business experienced serious reversals. Gray studied at Harvard Law School, read law, and clerked at a law firm prior to his entering the bar.
At the age of 36, Gray was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, the youngest appointee in its history. He quickly rose to the position of chief justice as older justices died or resigned.
During his 17 years on the Massachusetts court, Gray dissented only once and none of his decisions was overruled. He had the foresight while chief justice to hire a bright Harvard Law School student as his clerk, Louis D. Brandeis.
Gray was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Chester A. Arthur; Grays' nomination was confirmed by the Senate the following day.
Gray held to the view that law and politics were completely separate domains. HIs opinions were steeped in legal history and they lacked any appeal to public policy. Gray will best be remembered as the justice who changed his vote on the validity of the income tax. See Pollack v. Farmer's Loan & Trust Co., 157 U.S. 429 and 158 U.S. 601 (1895).