Born: Thursday, February 17th, 1881
Died: Sunday, January 6th, 1957
Birthplace: Danville, Indiana
Education: University of Chicago
University of Michigan, LL.B. (1905)
Career: Spokane Assistant Corporate Counsel (1909; 1912)
Superior Court (1912-1932)
Served: Thursday, December 1st, 1932 to Saturday, August 31st, 1946
Chief Justice: Monday, January 9th, 1939 to Monday, January 13th, 1941Bruce Richard Blake, born in Danville, Indiana, in 1881, moved to Spokane with his parents, Richard B. and Antoinette (Moore) Blake, when he was seven. Richard was a lawyer and, in 1889, after only a year in the region, voters elected him superior court judge for Spokane and Stevens counties. After serving three years of his four-year term, Judge Blake resigned and with Frank T. Post formed a partnership that soon became one of the area’s prominent law offices.
Bruce determined to follow in his father’s path. After public education in Spokane he spent two years at the University of Chicago and three years at the University of Michigan School of Law where William Steinert, another future Washington supreme court jurist, was a classmate. Blake returned to Spokane after graduation to join the new law firm of Graves, Kizer, and Graves. The following year, 1907, he co-founded the firm of Dalameter and Blake, which expanded into Cohn, Dalameter, and Blake in 1909.
Blake served as assistant corporation counsel for Spokane for three years beginning in 1909. In 1910 he married Mary E. Emery of Jacksonville, Florida. They had two daughters, Antoinette Emery and Helen May.
Blake won election to the Spokane County Superior Court in 1912, a position his father first held twenty-three years earlier. He was then only thirty-one, the youngest judge yet to sit on the Spokane bench. Judge Blake remained on the trial bench for twenty years until elected to the supreme court in 1932, defeating the appointed incumbent, and his friend, Henry E. T. Herman in the September primary. Blake’s family name, his many years on the trial bench, and his two previous unsuccessful supreme court campaigns in 1924 and 1928 gave him the recognition necessary to unseat Herman.
Blake had been fairly active in Democratic politics prior to his election to the Spokane court. He carried his liberal beliefs, if not his politics, with him to the bench. For example, his former law partner Benjamin H. Kizer observed:
He had a deep sympathy with the underprivileged that caused him to be a liberal in his political convictions, and a strong desire to see their wrongs righted, helping wherever he could, no less in the field of politics, where, as judge, he could not take an active part, than in the halls of justice where he pled their cause, first as a lawyer, then as jurist, with the deepest earnestness and conviction.
As a former trial judge, Blake only reluctantly overturned jury verdicts. But he did not hesitate to strike down legislative acts that threatened individual rights, nor was he reluctant to overrule outmoded decisions. Harry Ellsworth Foster, who argued cases before the judge, explained Blake’s view in these words:
It would be fair to say that he did not agree fully with the orthodox constitutional views of Chief Justice John Marshall that the judicial branch of the government could veto a legislative act but was inclined to the British view that the legislature was omnipotent unless the bill of rights was transgressed …
He found himself frequently in dissent, but he never dissented for dissent alone and never without clearly stating his reasons. He held many unorthodox views, for, in fact, he was an iconoclast, but was exceedingly tolerant of those who did not share his views.
Blake saw his role as a supreme court judge to be neutral: neither activism nor restraint were appropriate judicial stances. For Blake, the law was not logic but experience.
Mary Blake died in 1927 and the judge married state librarian Mildred H. Pope in 1934. Judge Blake belonged to Beta Theta Pi, Delta Chi, and Phi Alpha Delta fraternities, the Elks, Masons, Moose, and the Tacoma Golf and Country Club.
After Mildred died in 1955, Judge Blake’s health rapidly declined and his daughter, Antoinette, took him to her home in Washington, D. C., to care for him. He passed away on January 6, 1957.
Charles Sheldon, A Century of Judging: A Political History of the Washington Supreme Court (1988), pp. 69,85-87,279-288,320; and memorial services, Washington Reports, vol. 50, 2d (1957), pp. xxii-xxx.
The preceding biography is from Charles Sheldon's The Washington High Bench: A Biographical History of the State Supreme Court, 1889-1991, © 1992 by the Board of Regents of Washington State University. Reprinted here with permission and licensed to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License by The Temple of Justice Project.