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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Dixon, Luther Swift 1825 - 1891


lawyer, judge, b. Underhill, Chittenden County, Vt. He attended Norwich Military Academy, studied law, and was admitted to the Vermont bar (1850). In 1850 he moved to Wisconsin, settling in Portage where he practiced law and served for several years as district attorney of Columbia County. Although relatively unknown in the state, Dixon's service in 1857 as assistant prosecuter in the murder trial of John B. DuBay (q.v.) won him recognition, and in 1859 he served by appointment as judge of the 9th judicial circuit. A Republican, he was appointed chief justice of the Wisconsin supreme court by Governor Randall (q.v.) in Apr., 1859, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of E. V. Whiton (q.v.). As chief justice, Dixon was immediately faced with one of the most difficult political and constitutional questions of the era: whether or not a state supreme court had the right to declare a federal law unconstitutional. In June, 1859, Dixon upheld the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court (Ableman v. Booth and U.S. v. Booth), thereby reversing the earlier decision of the Wisconsin supreme court that held the Fugitive Slave Law to be unconstitutional. With this decision, Dixon defied the Republican States'-rights forces, which had refused to obey the dictates of the federal government on the slavery issue. In the regular supreme court election of 1860 the Republicans refused to nominate Dixon for the chief justiceship, but he was successfully elected as an independent, and was subsequently re-elected three times, serving until his resignation in 1874. After leaving the high court bench, he resumed private law practice and played a prominent role as counsel for the state in upholding the constitutionality of railroad regulation in the "Granger Cases." In 1879 he moved to Denver, Colo. Dict. Amer. Biog.; J. R. Berryman, ed., Bench and Bar of Wis. (2 vols., Chicago, 1898); J. B. Winslow, Story of a Great Court (Chicago, 1912).

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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