John Johnston Parker, jurist, was born in Monroe to John and Frances Parker. His brother Samuel I. Parker was a decorated hero of World War I. At the University of North Carolina (B.A., 1907; law degree, 1908), young Parker was a student government leader and prize-winning orator. After one year of practice in Greensboro, he returned to his hometown where he married Maria Moffitt in 1910. In that same year, at age twenty-four, Republican Parker ran for a U.S. House seat. Similarly unsuccessful tries for attorney general and governor followed in 1916 and 1920. In 1925 Parker was appointed judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, comprising North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. During his thirty-two years as an appellate judge, Parker heard over 4,000 arguments and wrote opinions in approximately 1,500 cases.
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In 1930 President Herbert Hoover nominated Judge Parker for a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Although endorsed by the American Bar Association and many of his fellow jurists, Parker was strongly opposed by two groups. The American Federation of Labor objected to a 1927 opinion in which he had upheld a “yellow dog” contract under which workers agreed not to join a union or to strike. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) objected to alleged racist remarks made during his 1920 campaign. For both organizations the debate was a watershed, marking the first time the pressure groups had substantially affected a national issue. The Senate rejected the nomination by a vote of 41-39.
Parker’s character, though impugned, emerged intact. In time the judge proved he was neither anti-black nor anti-labor. Walter White of the NAACP acknowledged that his post-1930 bench decisions demonstrated as much. Parker was always much respected in North Carolina. James Shepard of the North Carolina College for Negroes had lent his support in 1930. State politicians urged President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to again submit his name for the Supreme Court. Truman declined, but in that year Parker was named the alternate judge for the United States in the Nuremberg war crimes trials. (Each of four nations--the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union--sent a judge, an alternate, and a prosecutor.) Parker believed that his role at Nuremberg was to insure that the trial was conducted in a manner acceptable to members of the American bar.
Judge Parker was long active in professional organizations. In addition, he was the recipient of several honorary degrees, a UNC trustee from 1921 to 1958, and a member of state constitutional conventions in 1931 and 1958. A devout Episcopalian, he was chairman of Billy Graham’s 1957 Charlotte Crusade. At his death he was the senior appellate judge in the nation. He is buried in Charlotte.
Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement Six: 1956-1960, 493-496
William C. Burris, “John J. Parker and Supreme Court Policy” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, 1965)
Richard L. Watson Jr., “The Defeat of Judge Parker: A Study in Pressure Groups and Politics,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review (September 1963): 213-234
Donald J. Lisio, Hoover, Blacks, and Lily-Whites: A Study of Southern Strategies (1985)
John J. Parker Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill, finding aid at:
Monroe Journal, March 18, 1958