James Clark McReynolds was born on February 3, 1862, in Elkton, Todd County, Kentucky. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Vanderbilt University in 1882, where he was elected valedictorian and served as editor-in-chief of The Vanderbilt Observer.Upon graduation, he commenced the study of law at the University of Virginia where he obtained a law degree in 1884. His formal education completed, McReynolds embarked upon a lucrative private law practice in Nashville while teaching law at Vanderbilt University. In 1903, however, he moved to Washington, D.C. and became Assistant Attorney General, a position he held until 1912. During this period his vigorous prosecution of the "tobacco trust" bolstered his reputation among progressive reform groups. Active in Woodrow Wilson's successful presidential campaign in 1912, he was appointed Attorney General after briefly practicing law in New York City.
In 1914, Wilson appointed McReynolds to the United States Supreme Court where he served until his retirement in 1941. Justice McReynolds died in 1946.