Justice Henry A. Lyons: First Jew to Serve on the California Supreme Court & as Chief Justice – 1852

Justice Henry A. Lyons

Chief Justice Henry A Lyons WS 8/1199

Chief Justice Henry A Lyons
WS 8/1199

Values Codes  I-H-E-L

Henry A. Lyons was born in Philadelphia in 1809.

His parents were French Jews who mi­grated to America and settled in that city.

In the 1830s, Lyons moved to Louisiana where he became a member of the Bar at St. Francisville.


California Supreme Court

The Gold Rush attracted Lyons to Califor­nia, and, in 1849, he ran in Sonora, Tuolumne County for the first California Legislature, but was de­feated.

The new California Constitu­tion created a three-man Supreme Court.

Henry Lyons, already well known as an experienced lawyer, was se­lected by the Legislature for a four-year term on the first Court.

He received the second highest vote.

When Chief Justice S.C. Hastings’ two-year term expired in 1852, Henry Lyons became Chief Justice.

Chief Justice Justice Henry Lyons only served three months, when he re­signed – because the salary was too small to support his family.


Justice Lyons lived in a fine Victorian home on Rincon Hill, then a fashion­able San Francisco neighborhood.

Justice Henry Lyons was said to have been: “aristocratic in demeanor and an associate of cultured people.”

He was an ardent Southern sympa­thizer during the Civil War.


Henry Lyons left an estate of about a half-million dollars when he died, in 1872, an enormous amount for that period.

Justice Henry A. Lyons remains are interred at Cypress Lawn Cemetery.


More information can be found in the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  • Justice Herny A. Lyons: First Jew to Serve on the California Supreme Court, San Francisco, California, 1809 – 1872, Vol 43#1

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