William Grubb

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William Irwin Grubb (born March 8, 1862 in Cincinnati, Ohio; died October 27, 1935 in Birmingham) served as a Judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama from 1909 to 1935. He is noted for having struck down components of President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" programs and for his support for national prohibition.

Grubb was was the son of John Grubb and Sidney Irwin who owned a grocery store in Cincinnati. His father's family had immigrated to Delaware from Cornwall in the late 1600s and his mother's family, of Irish ancestry, was related to Presidents William Harrison and Benjamin Harrison.

William earned his bachelor of arts at Yale University in 1883, where he shared a room with Horace Taft, younger brother of future president William Howard Taft. He completed a professional degree at the Cincinnati Law School and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1994. He took a job as a stenographer for the Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham Railroad, and relocated to Birmingham to pursue his career in 1887. Grubb and Walker Percy kept offices in the Potter Building in 1902. Grubb joined the firm of Walker, Tillman, Campbell & Morrow as a partner in 1904. He married the former Alice Claire Vigo on June 8, 1906.

After Oscar Hundley pre-emptively resigned from the court rather than face contentious re-nomination hearings in the U.S. Senate in 1909, President Taft appointed Grubb to fill the vacant seat. He was confirmed by the Senate on May 18 and commissioned the same day. Grubb became known immediately for his relentless work ethic and was called three times to New York City to help clear backlogged district court cases there.

Between 1918 and 1921 Grubb appointed his former partner, Lee Bradley, to serve as receiver for the assets of the Birmingham Railway, Light & Power Company, for which the Birmingham Electric Company was organized.

President Herbert Hoover appointed Grubb to the National Committee on Law Observance and Law Enforcement (the "Wickersham Commission") in 1929 to study the effects of national prohibition. He argued that organized crime and other ill effects could be combated by means other than repeal of the amendment. During the Great Depression, Grubb dismissed an indictment against sawmill owner William Bulcher who was charged with violating a contract with the National Recovery Agency and held the agency itself to be unconstitutional. The original case was appealed to the Supreme Court, but NRA lawyers reached a settlement with Bulcher rather than pursue the case.

In December 1934 Grubb ruled in "Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority" that the United States could not compete with private electrical utilities and issued an injunction against the TVA. That decision was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and their ruling in favor of the TVA was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Grubb died at home in Birmingham just prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Ashwander v. TVA. He suffered a heart attack on a Sunday morning before attending services at St Paul's Catholic Church. He was survived by his wife, Alice, and three children: Kathrine, Archibald, and William Jr. Grubb was buried at Elmwood Cemetery.

Preceded by:
Oscar Hundley
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama
Succeeded by:
David Davis


  • Owen, Thomas M. (1912) Alabama Official and Statistical Register: 1911. Alabama Department of Archives and History, p. 206
  • "William Irwin Grubb, B.A. 1883." obituary (October 15, 1936) Yale Bulletin, No. 95, p. 29
  • "William Irwin Grubb" (October 9, 2016) Wikipedia - accessed November 2, 2016