John J. Parker

The recent political skirmishes over Supreme Court nominees bring to mind the case of John Johnston Parker, which shows, if anything, that getting onto the nation’s highest court has never been an easy task.

Parker (1885-1958) was a native of Monroe, N.C. He was a successful lawyer and an active member of the Republican party, which put him firmly in the minority in the then staunchly Democratic state. Parker worked for the U.S. Attorney General’s office and served as a judge on the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals before being nominated in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover to the Supreme Court.

Although widely considered an able jurist, Parker quickly drew the ire of organized labor and the NAACP. Labor interests opposed his nomination due to a decision he’d made on the appeals court that limited union organizing, while the NAACP pointed to comments he’d made in a gubernatorial campaign a decade earlier that were perceived to be racist. It was a close fight, and one that did not fall strictly along party lines. When the vote came before the Senate, Parker’s nomination was defeated by a vote of 41-39.