Former justices

Justice John E. Martin

Justice John E. Martin

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice: 1948–1962
Chief Justice: 1957–1962
Life: 1891–1968

"Martin was a solid lawyer, shrewd, wise in the way of humanity, with a rare gift of earthy common sense... He was a man full of humor and fun as well as accomplishment." – Editorial, The Milwaukee Journal (1968)

John E. Martin was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on November 15, 1891. He graduated from East High School in Green Bay. He attended both the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University and graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1916.

Martin enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1917 and became a lieutenant after attending Officer Training Camp at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. While overseas, he fought alongside Theodore G. Lewis, Edward J. Gehl and Roland J. Stienle, all of whom became Wisconsin Supreme Court justices. Martin was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart. He was honorably discharged as a captain in 1921.

Martin returned to Green Bay and practiced law with his father, Patrick, and his uncle, Joseph, who also became a member of the state Supreme Court. Martin moved to Milwaukee and was appointed assistant district attorney in 1933.

In 1938, Martin was part of the Republican-Democratic coalition with the goal of defeating the Progressives. He was elected the attorney general for Wisconsin and was re-elected to four two-year terms thereafter. A colleague on the Supreme Court recalled that while Martin was attorney general, he visited a northern Wisconsin town. When his group stopped at a local tavern, Martin asked the bartender where the (illegal) slot machines were. The bartender replied, "We had to put them away. The Big Guy is in town." He was referring to the attorney general, of course, but did not recognize Martin.

Governor Oscar Rennebohm appointed Martin to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1948. Martin was elected in 1950 and became chief justice in January 1957, when Chief Justice Edward T. Fairchild retired. In 1961, Martin was the first Wisconsinite to serve as chair of the National Conference of Chief Justices.

Martin retired from the Supreme Court in January 1962 and was appointed the first court administrator of Wisconsin. Because of his failing health, Martin retired in 1967.

Martin and his wife Mary Kerwin had two children, John and Mary Hope. He died December 9, 1968.

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