Courts in the Classroom
Supreme Court of Indiana
Division of State Court Administration
30 S. Meridian Street, Ste 500
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Dr. Elizabeth R. Osborn
Court History and
Public Education Programs
2011 Outstanding Public
History Project Award
from the National Council
on Public History
Benjamin Harrison was elected Reporter of the Supreme Court in 1860. The job of the Reporter was to make sure that all cases handed down by the Court were published in order to provide a record of the Court's decisions. This creates the case law that will guide lawyers in the future. Judge Isaac Blackford who served on the Court from December 1817 until January 1853, was the first to recognize the importance of publishing the opinions issued by the Court. Blackford himself edited and published all of the Court's opinions from 1816 to 1851. The 1851 Constitution, however, stipulated that the Reporter could not be one of the Justices.
Harrison took office as Supreme Court Reporter in 1861, for a four-year term, just as the Civil War was beginning. In August of 1862, Harrison was commissioned as a colonel for the Indiana's 70th regiment. He deputized Charles Craven to act as his deputy while he was away on the battlefield.
Benjamin Harrison, and Governor Oliver P. Morton who had commissioned him, were both Republicans and loyal to President Lincoln and supporters of Lincoln's actions. The Indiana Supreme Court, however, was composed of Democrats and led by the extremely partisan Judge Samuel Perkins. Perkins was critical of Lincoln throughout the war. At the general election held in the fall of 1862 the Democrats nominated a candidate, Michael Kerr, to fill what they saw as the vacant post of Reporter of the Supreme Clerk. Kerr was successfully elected to the office of Reporter of the Supreme Court.
Once in office Kerr tried to obtain the records of the court from the Clerk of the Supreme Court, John P. Jones. Jones was unable to turn the records over to Kerr because he had already given them to Harrison's appointed deputy, Craven. The lawsuit of Kerr v. Jones is the result of this dispute. In this decision, the partisan Supreme Court ruled that serving in the volunteer services of the Union Army was not the same as holding a position in the state militia. The state constitution forbids individuals from simultaneously holding of two "lucrative" offices; the only exceptions being service in the state militia or as postmaster. Therefore, by holding two "lucrative" offices, that of Colonel of the Indiana 70th and of Reporter of the Supreme Court, the Court ruled that Harrison was in violation of the state constitution. They found that by accepting the commission into the volunteer services of the Union Army, Harrison in effect gave up the office of Reporter of the Clerk. The Court ordered that all records be turned over to the newly elected Reporter, Michael Kerr.
Note: In a March 4, 2003 ceremony, as a part of a commemoration of Benjamin Harrison's Presidency, the Indiana Supreme Court will issue Harrison a judicial pardon. The pardon excuses Harrison's departure from his duties as Reporter in the service of his country.
Read the brief opinion in Kerr v. Jones and Reporter's Comments, a description of the office of Supreme Court Reporter, by clicking on the links below. Harrison and his lifelong friend, poet James Whitcomb Riley, will be on hand to receive the pardon presented by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.