George B. Nelson (1876-1943)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice (1930-1942)
"Not only was Judge Nelson active in his profession, but he was untiring in his devotion to matters of public concern and public welfare in his community and state." - Theodore W. Brazeau, Nelson's memorial service (1943)
George Bliss Nelson was born May 21, 1876, in Amherst, Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin and was a member of the Philomathian Debating Society. It was debating, he often said, that laid the foundation for his legal career. He earned his law degree from George Washington Law School in 1902. While in Washington, D.C., Nelson spent his free time listening to discussions on the floor of Congress.
After law school, Nelson returned to Stevens Point to practice law. In 1906, he was appointed district attorney of Portage County, a seat he held until 1913. He served one term as city attorney for the City of Stevens Point. Considered a strong trial lawyer, he was the lead prosecutor in Lasecki v. State, a high-profile murder trial in 1926. It was said at his memorial service that Nelson's work on this case will be forever known as a "fine example of conscientious and thorough work in criminal prosecution."
During World War I, Nelson was active in civic organizations such as the Red Cross, Liberty Loan drives and the YMCA. He was deeply religious and held leadership roles in the Episcopal church for 30 years.
In 1930, Governor Walter J. Kohler, Sr. appointed Nelson to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Nelson was hesitant for fear that he would not perform well. After encouragement from friends and colleagues, he accepted. The early years of his tenure were during the Great Depression. The Supreme Court grappled with many problems arising out of the economic disorder and the efforts of the government to alleviate the situation.
In 1940, Nelson became ill and was unable to attend meetings of the Supreme Court. He resigned in December 1942. His resignation letter read in part: "Until quite recently, I had the strong expectation of being able to return to my work on the supreme court. That now seems to be out of the question, at least for some time..."
Nelson died January 10, 1943. He and his wife Ruth Weller had four children: Elizabeth, James II, Reginald and George, Jr.