Joseph Rucker Lamar was born on a plantation in Ruckersville, Georgia, on October 14, 1857. He attended Richmond Academy in Augusta, Martin Institute in Georgia, and Penn Lucy Academy in Baltimore. His B.A. in 1877 was from Bethany College in West Virginia, and he attended Washington and Lee Law School 1877-1878 where he completed both junior and senior course in one year. He read for the law, clerking with the prominent Augusta attorney, Henry Clay Foster and was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1878. He attained eminence in his state as a lawyer, legal scholar, and judge, being largely responsible for the revised Civil Code of the State of Georgia (1896). His professional career included: Professor of latin, Bethany College, 1879-1880; Private practice, Augusta, Georgia, 1880-1903; Member, Georgia House of Representatives, 1886-1889; Member, Commission to Recodify the Laws of Georgia, 1893-1895; Associate justice, Georgia Supreme Court, 1903-1905; Private practice, Augusta, Georgia, 1905-1911. Lamar was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, being nominated by William H. Taft on December 12, 1910 (to a seat vacated by William H. Moody) which was confirmed by the Senate on December 15, 1910, and Lamar received his commission on December 17, 1910 and took his seat on the bench January 3, 1911. Lamar was unable to join the bench for the fall 1915 term because of a stroke. He died at the age of fifty-nine in Washington, D.C., on Janary 2, 1916. He is buried in Summerville Cemetery, Augusta, Georgia.
Attorney General Gregory, in addressing the Supreme Court on June 12, 1916 said:
"While Justice Lamar was a powerful advocate, a wise counselor, an able and just Judge, a cultured gentleman, and a great citizen, his dominating characteristic was a peculiarly winning courtesy, a kindly consideration for all with whom he came in contact. He was born and bred among a people who have always cherished this quality, and yet in his case it was not the result of association and training. By a perfectly natural process he garnered the sunshine of life and dispensed it with a prodigal hand." 241 U.S. Reports xi.