John F. Dillon

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Justice John F. Dillon, Iowa jurist - If there was any doubt about whether localities had specific authority, they didn’t, Dillon determined.Web. Dillon Rule spawns odd requests in Va. Assembly, Deirdre Fernandes, The Virginian-Pilot, Tribune Publishing Co., Norfolk, VA, Feb 26, 2011, retrieved Nov. 27, 2018.
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John Forrest Dillon (1831 – 1914) was a legal author, lawyer and the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court in the mid-1800’s. Dillon is well-known to Virginia's politicians as the author of a legal principle that has governed state and local relationships in the Commonwealth for more than 130 years. [1][2]

Based on decisions by the Iowa jurist, the Dillon's Rule limits the powers granted to local governments to those expressly granted by the state, implied by the state, or essential to a locality. More importantly, Justice Dillon ruled that if there is any reasonable doubt whether the state has granted a power to a locality, then it has not been granted. Simply put, towns and cities derive their authority from the state. [3]

Scholastic education

Dillon studied both medicine and law at the University of Iowa.

Medical career

In 1850, Dillon graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Davenport, a Medical Department of Iowa University, became a physician and practiced medicine a short time.

Law career

Dillon was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1852; elected a judgeship in Iowa state court in 1858; and elevated to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1862, before being appointed to a Circuit Court judgeship in 1869. While on the bench, he served as a lecturer at the University of Iowa law school.[4]

Later years

After resigning his federal judgeship, he taught law at Columbia Law School and Yale Law School. Judge Dillon left a sizable bequest to the University of Iowa College of Law in 1914, providing scholarships for Iowa law students.[5]

Family life


  • Commentaries on the Law of Municipal Corporations (Little, Brown 1911)[6]
  • John Marshall: Life, Character, and Judicial Services (Callaghan & Co. 1903)
  • John F. Dillon et al., Proportional Representation: A Means for the Improvement of Municipal Governments (Johnson 1900)[7]
  • Property: Its Rights and Duties in Our Legal and Social Systems (Review Pub. 1895)
  • The Laws and Jurisprudence of England and America (Little, Brown 1894)
  • Pacific Railroad Laws (Miles 1890)
  • Commentaries on the Law of Municipal Corporations (Little, Brown and Company 1890)[8]
  • Broadway Surface Railway Company: Effect of a Legislative Repeal of its Charter (Burgoyne 1886)
  • Commentaries on the Law of Municipal Corporations (Little, Brown 1881)
  • The Law of Municipal Corporations (Cockcroft 1873)
  • Treatise on the Law of Municipal Corporations (Cockcroft 1872)


  • "Clearing the Docket," 10 St. B.J. 310 (1935)
  • "American Institutions and Laws," 69 U.S. L. Rev. 355 (1935)
  • "Chancellor Kent," 3 Colum. L. Rev. 257 (1903)
  • "Judge Field's Resignation," 6 Mich. L. J. 262 (1897)
  • "The True Professional Ideal," 3 Am. Law. 59 (1895)
  • "Our Law: Its Essential Nature and Ethical Foundations and Relations," 3 Counsellor 99 (1893-1894)
  • "Report of the Committee on Award of Medal," 15 Annu. Rep. A.B.A. 422 (1892)
  • "Methods and Purpose of Legal Education," 2 Counsellor 10 (1892-1893)
  • "Address of the President," 15 Annu. Rep. A.B.A. 167 (1892)
  • "Bentham and His School of Jurisprudence," 24 Am. L. Rev. 727 (1890)
  • "American Law Concerning Employer's Liability," 24 Am. L. Rev. 727 (1890)
  • "A Century of American Law," 22 Am. L. Rev. 30 (1888)
  • John Forrest Dillon et al., "The Delay and Uncertainty of the Law," 10 Va. L.J. 647 (1886)
  • "Law Reports and Law Reporting," 9 Annu. Rep. A.B.A. 257 (1886)
  • John Forrest Dillon & David D. Field, "Law Reform," 9 Va. L. J. 645 (1885)
  • "Practical Hints in the Preparation of Briefs," 1 Colum. Jurist 125 (1885)
  • "Annual Address," 7 Ann. Rep. A.B.A. 203 (1884)
  • "Power of Municipal Corporations to Borrow Money," 6 S. L. Rev. 663 (1880-1881)
  • "Inns of Court and Westminster Hall," 12 W. Jurist 321 (1878)
  • "The Law of Municipal Bonds," 2 S. L. Rev. 437 (1876-1877)
  • "Removal of Suits from State Courts to Federal Courts," 2 S. L. Rev. 282 (1876-1877)
  • "Blackstone's Commentaries," 2 Bench & B. 139 (1870-1871)
  • "Law of Surface Waters," 1 W. Jurist 12 (1867)


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