Born: Wednesday, October 6th, 1841
Died: Wednesday, August 25th, 1926
Birthplace: Austinburg, Ohio
Education: Ohio State (1866)
Union Law School, LL.B. (1867)
Career: Prosecuting Attorney (1869-1870)
Michigan Legislator (1871-1876)
Arizona Territorial Secretary and Governor (1876-1918)
Washington Territorial Supreme Court (1879-1887)
Served: Monday, November 11th, 1889 to Monday, January 11th, 1897
Chief Justice: Monday, January 14th, 1895 to Monday, January 11th, 1897
Political Party: RepublicanJohn P. Hoyt, one of the five original judges of the Washington Supreme Court, was the son of David and Susannah (Fancher) Hoyt, born on a farm near Austinburg, Ohio. He received the rudiments of an education while working on the farm and then attended public school and the Grand River Institute in Austinburg. He taught school until he volunteered for the Union Army during the Civil War, serving four years with the Eighty-fifth and Eighty-seventh Ohio Infantry and the Second Ohio Artillery. Upon his release in 1866, Hoyt enrolled at Ohio State and then Union Law School in Cleveland, Ohio, graduating in 1867.
Hoyt began to practice law in Michigan where he became interested in Republican politics. He was elected prosecuting attorney for Tuscola County in 1869 and again in 1870. He married on December 17, 1869 and had two sons and one daughter.
Voters elected him to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1871 and reelected him for a second term. He served as speaker from 1874 to 1876. President Ulysses Grant appointed him secretary of the Arizona Territory in 1876 and governor a year later. Named governor of Idaho Territory in 1878, Hoyt did not accept the commission because he felt the man he was to replace had been unjustly removed. Hoyt persuaded President Rutherford Hayes to reinstate the person. He achieved his goal of becoming a judge when he gained appointment as justice of the supreme court of the Washington Territory. He served on that bench from 1879 to 1887.
At one of the early meetings of the state bar, Judge Hoyt shared some of his territorial experiences, revealing something about the practice of law then:
I reached the State, then Territory, of Washington in February, 1879. The first term of court which I was called upon to hold was at Vancouver, and to one whose practice at the bar had been confined to a common law state the motions to strike out and strike in (make more definite and certain), founded upon reasons conceivable and inconceivable … which were fired at the court by guns, as to the caliber of which it then had little knowledge, was most bewildering, if not absolutely alarming.
Congress amended the National Bank Act in 1886 to allow certain new types of banks to incorporate. Seattle banking pioneer Dexter Horton took advantage of the act and formed a corporation with Hoyt, Arthur Denny, Joseph R. Lewis, and William S. Ladd as major stockholders. Eventually the organization became known as Seattle First National Bank. Upon completion of his term on the territorial supreme court in 1887, Hoyt became active in the bank as manager while remaining one of its major stockholders. He also joined with Denny in several real estate ventures.
The politics of statehood, however, drew Hoyt back into public life. King County voters elected him to the constitutional convention in Olympia where he presided over that important gathering. With statehood, Hoyt played a leading role at the Republican nominating convention and the party selected him to run for the state supreme court after he withdrew his name from consideration for a U. S. Senate seat.
During the campaign Hoyt drew criticism for favoring the Northern Pacific Railroad while a territorial judge. He also allegedly denied the Seattle anti-Chinese rioters of 1886 the right of appeal. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer discounted the accusations and, with some delight, pointed out that every attorney in Judge Hoyt’s twelve county district had signed a petition for his reappointment as territorial judge. The allegations failed to make any significant inroads with voters, who confirmed the entire Republican judicial slate in the October 1889 election. Hoyt drew the seven-year term on the five-member court. In 1896 he became the first incumbent judge to be defeated in a reelection bid when James Reavis and the Fusionist Party swept to victory throughout the state.
Hoyt took a moderate stance on the high court regarding constitutional issues, often joining Judge Thomas Anders to provide balance between the activists and restraintists. He wrote more than his share of majority opinions. For example, between 1890 and 1895 he penned 312 of the court’s opinions, twenty-three percent of the total. However, he was also the leading dissenter, writing sixty-five dissenting opinions, voting sixty-nine times with other dissenters, and concurring fifty-two times. Of the 1,186 cases the court heard over its first five years, Hoyt was out of harmony with a majority of his colleagues fourteen percent of the time.
Because of his frequent dissents and apparent dislike for much of the compromise necessary for unanimity on an appellate court, Judge Hoyt provided little leadership to the early bench. With his vast experience in politics, the law, and judging, combined with his considerable prestige, one would think he might have taken a more practical approach to issues confronting the supreme court. However, it may well be that this diverse and rich background convinced the judge of the correctness of his views. Nevertheless, Hoyt was not a maverick outside the mainstream of politics and law. He simply proved to be less effective than might have been expected.
Following his defeat, Judge Hoyt returned to his business concerns, continued as regent of the University of Washington, serving from 1889 to 1902, and taught at the university’s law school from 1902 to 1909. From the early 1900s to 1912 he served as United States referee in bankruptcy for the northwest.
Judge Hoyt belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic and the Association of Washington Pioneers, serving as its vice president in 1925. He resided in Mercer Island until his death in 1926 at age eighty-five.
Seattle Times, 26 Sept. 1889; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 28 Sept. 1889 and 17 Je. 1919; Charles K. Wiggins, “John P. Hoyt and Women’s Suffrage,” Washington State Bar News (Jan. 1889), pp. 17-20; Julian Hawthorne, History of Washington vol. 1 (1893) p. 615; Charles Sheldon and Michael Stohr-Gillmore, “In the Beginning: The Washington Supreme Court a Century Ago,” University of Puget Sound Law Review, vol. 17 (Winter, 1989), pp. 247-284; C. S. Reinhart, History of the Supreme Court of the Territory and State of Washington (n.d.), pp. 58-65, 104-105.
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.