William Wartenbee Johnson
William Wartenbee Johnson served as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Ohio after serving as a member of the first Supreme Court Commission.
He was born in Chandlersville, Ohio on Aug. 26, 1826, educated in the local schools and attended Muskingum College. He taught school in the area and, in 1849, entered the law office of Charles C. Converse, where he studied law. Johnson was admitted to the bar in 1852 and opened a practice in Ironton.
In 1858, Johnson was elected judge of the Seventh District Court of Common Pleas, serving until Feb. 10, 1867. Two years later, he returned to the bench and served until March 15, 1872, when, due to ill health, he was forced to retire.
Johnson was appointed by Gov. Rutherford B. Hayes to the first Supreme Court Commission on Feb. 2, 1876 and served until Feb. 1, 1879. He was chief judge on the commission for most of his term. In the fall election of 1879, Johnson was elected to the Supreme Court of Ohio, taking his seat on Feb. 9, 1880. He was re-elected in October 1884, but did not complete his term. He served as Chief Justice from 1884 to 1885. Johnson resigned on Nov. 9, 1886 due to ill health, and was replaced by Franklin Dickman. Johnson’s opinions written during the commission are in volume 33 of the Ohio State Reports and his opinions while on the Court are in volumes 36 through 44.
Among the notable cases during Johnson’s time on the Court is his dissenting opinion on the Pond law, in which he held the law to be constitutional. The Pond law was passed on April 5, 1882 and established a graduated tax rate for saloons. The Supreme Court decided it was unconstitutional. It had been passed at the instigation of Gov. Foster and had its result in the defeat of the Republican Party in the state election of 1883.
Johnson married Martha E. Blocksom in Oct. 26, 1854 in Ironton. They had two sons. Johnson died March 2, 1887 in Ironton and is buried in Woodland Cemetery with his wife and son, Henry B. Johnson.
b. Aug. 26, 1826
d. March 2, 1887
56th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio