Justice Thomas M. Cooley

Justice Thomas M. Cooley

Never Forget

“Law students must not forget that they are fitting themselves to be ministers of justice.” -- Thomas McIntyre Cooley

justice thomas m. cooley.Thomas McIntyre Cooley

In the 74 years of his life, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas M. Cooley compiled the most distinguished legal record of any man whose name has been associated with the jurisprudence of Michigan.

After a successful career as a city clerk, newspaper editor, and circuit court commissioner, Justice Cooley turned to the practice of law. He was appointed to compile the statutes of the state, a work that he completed in one year. The Compiled Laws of the State of Michigan: Published by Authority. Compiled and Arranged Under an Act of the Legislature, Approved February 2, 1857, KFM4230 1857 .A23, Strosacker Room. When this work was completed, he was appointed the official reporter for the Michigan Supreme Court. Justice Cooley was appointed to the high court in 1864.

Justice Cooley was one of the very first faculty members of the University of Michigan Law School when it opened in 1859. As a professor at the law school, he taught constitutional law, real property, trust, estates, and domestic property. Justice Cooley authored countless articles on legal subjects and wrote several full-length works on constitutional limitations, Blackstone's Commentaries, Story's Commentaries, and Torts. SeeCommentaries on the Laws of England: In Four Books / by Sir William Blackstone ... together with a copious analysis of the contents; and notes with reference to English and American decisions and statutes to date which illustrate or change the law of the text; also, a full table of abbreviations, and some considerations regarding the study of law, KD660 .B52 1884, Rare Books.

Justice Cooley's writings are still cited in court opinions, State ex rel. Pope v. Xantus Health Plan of Tennessee, No. M2000-00120-COA-R10-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 17, 2000). Legal scholars continue to discuss his interpretations today. Robert F. Williams, Interpreting State Constitutions, 2000 A.B.A. Appellate Judges Seminar.Two of his works, A Treatise on the Constitutional Limitations: Which Rest Upon the Legislative Power of the States of the American Union and The General Principles of Constitutional Law in the United States of America, are included in the Liberty Library of Constitutional Classics.

As a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Cooley sat on the high court with Justices Campbell, Christiancy, and Graves. Today, these four men are remembered as the "Big Four" of Michigan law for their work in developing the foundation of Michigan jurisprudence. Justice Cooley's reputation soon spread to every state and federal court, and his opinions were widely cited. Justice Cooley wrote many of the opinions for the court including People ex rel. Sutherland v. Governor, 29 Mich. 320 (1874), which remains a benchmark in the separation of powers among the three branches of government.

Retiring from the Supreme Court in 1885, Justice Cooley was soon appointed receiver of the Wabash Railway. Shortly afterward, he was chosen to head the new federal Interstate Commerce Commission.

Small in stature, gentle and scholarly in demeanor, Thomas M. Cooley, in truth, was a giant among his fellows. He enjoyed universal respect and admiration in his lifetime. The judgment of posterity has made that verdict unanimous.


WMU-Cooley Law School
300 South Capitol Avenue
Lansing, Michigan 48933 
(517) 371-5140

Click here for a full sitemap

Click here for Consumer Information
(ABA-Required Disclosures)

Get Adobe Acrobat Reader
Get Adobe Acrobat Reader

Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School is an independent, private, non-profit educational institution affiliated with Western Michigan University. The affiliation between WMU and WMU-Cooley, which are legally and financially independent institutions, will end on or before November 5, 2023. As an independent institution, the Law School is solely responsible for its academic program. Accredited by the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission. 

Read non-discrimination policy

If you encounter accessibility barriers while on our website, please notify our Accessibility Office using the Inaccessible Content Notification Form.

WMU Cooley Logo
In corde hominum est anima legis.

© 2021 WMU Cooley Law School