Joseph McKenna

Media Items
Personal Information
Thursday, August 10, 1843
Sunday, November 21, 1926
Childhood Location 
Childhood Surroundings 
Associate Justice
Nominated By 
Commissioned on 
Friday, January 21, 1898
Sworn In 
Wednesday, January 26, 1898
Left Office 
Monday, January 5, 1925
Reason For Leaving 
Length of Service 
26 years, 11 months, 10 days
Joseph McKenna
The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: Edward Wilber D. Hamilton)

Joseph McKenna was the son of Irish immigrants who settled in Philadelphia but later moved to California. After attending public school, McKenna studied law at the Benicia Collegiate Institute and graduated in 1865. A year later, he entered the practice of law. But politics had more allure than law, and McKenna pursued Republican issues in his community.

McKenna served four terms in the House of Representatives, and later, as circuit judge and (briefly) as attorney general. In all these roles, he was devoted to Republican principles. This loyalty was surely the basis for his nomination to the High Court, for experience would confirm that it was not his ability that merited his elevation to the nation's highest tribunal. In fact, two federal trial judges took the unusual step of publicly expressing their view that McKenna was unfit for the office based on his performance as an appellate judge.

McKenna may have acknowledged his lack of preparation when, after his confirmation, he studied law at Columbia Law School to prepare for the burdens he would face as a justice. There is doubt that the last-minute tutoring had any measurable improvement on his ability as a justice.

Clerksort icon Law School Terms Clerked
Ashton F. Embry 1913, 1914, 1915, 1917, 1918
James Cecil Hooe 1902, 1903, 1904, 1907, 1909, 1910, 1900
Robert G. Cogswell Harvard 1919, 1921, 1922

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Joseph McKenna. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 28 August 2015. <>.
Joseph McKenna, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 28, 2015).
"Joseph McKenna," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 28, 2015,