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Biography of Alfred Alexander Freeman, Noted Politician and Judge

Biography of Alfred Alexander Freeman, noted politician and judge.

Alfred Alexander Freeman was born in Tennessee on Feb. 7, 1838, and by 1859 had been admitted to the practice of law. He enjoyed a successful political career in Tennessee, elected several times to the state legislature and losing a close race as the Republican candidate for governor in 1872. He served as U.S. consul in Prague, Bohemia, and was appointed an assistant U.S. attorney general in 1877.

With the inauguration of Grover Cleveland in 1885, he returned to private practice, staying in Washington. After Congress created a new associate justice position for New Mexico, President Harrison appointed him to the bench in October, 1890. Justice Freeman was barely on the job when he was assigned the task of writing an opinion reversing a judgment involving the Shalam religious colony in Doña Ana County. A jury had awarded the plaintiff $1,500 in damages on his complaint that the “Faithist First Church of Tae” had not lived up to its spiritual and theological representations. As shown by the opinions citing the case with approval, it was one of several late 19th Century/early 20th Century actions by disappointed “converts.” Anticipating the law of “church autonomy,” recently (2006) adopted in New Mexico in the employment context, the narrow holding by Justice Freeman, the other justices concurring in the result only, was that the complaint did not set out “a proper cause of action.” Citing no authority and loosely using equitable doctrine (in a case at law for damages), Justice Freeman decided to mock the religion of the parties. It would not be surprising if President Harrison, a lawyer and devout Presbyterian,considered the opinion inappropriate.