Former justices

Justice James Ward Rector

Justice James Ward Rector

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice: 1946–1947
Life: 1903–1979

"He possessed in rare degree the judicial qualities of integrity, the capacity to suspend judgment, fairness, wide learning, broad experience, industry and concern for people and their problems." – Robert B.L. Murphy, Rector's memorial service (1982)

James Ward Rector was born in Glenwood, Missouri, on June 24, 1903. Although he occasionally skipped school to attend trials in the local courthouse, he graduated from high school at the age of 16. He attended the University of Missouri, but left during the farm depression of 1921 to earn money for school by working in the logging industry.

Rector enrolled in the University of Wisconsin in 1925, at the urging of Glenn Frank, the president of the university and friend of the Rector family. Rector lived with the Frank family and tutored the president's son.

Rector graduated from law school in 1930 and joined a Madison law firm. His impressive career included service as executive secretary to Governor Albert G. Schmedeman, special counsel to Governor Julius P. Heil and deputy attorney general for the state. As deputy, he argued and won 14 cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Rector was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April 1946 to fill the vacancy created by Justice Joseph Martin's death. Rector ran for a full term in 1947, but was defeated. He ran a second time in 1949 and was defeated again. At Rector's memorial service, his son said that although his father was deeply hurt by his election losses, he never expressed bitterness.

After leaving the Supreme Court in 1947, Rector was offered a post as a judge in the Nuremberg war crimes trials. He declined, stating that the proceedings did not further the cause of law no matter how much the defendants might have deserved the punishments they were to receive.

Rector was appointed chief counsel to the Public Service Commission in 1948. He resigned in 1949 and became vice president of First Wisconsin Trust Company of Milwaukee, a position he held until he retired in 1968. Rector maintained a working relationship with a Milwaukee law firm until his death.

Rector and his wife Virginia had four children: James, Jr. (who served as a Supreme Court commissioner), Schuyler, Nancy and Kathleen.

Rector died August 6, 1979, at age 77.

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