Edward Terry Sanford

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Edward Sanford
Justice Edward Terry Sanford.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
January 29, 1923 – March 8, 1930[1]
Nominated by Warren Harding
Preceded by Mahlon Pitney
Succeeded by Owen Roberts
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee and the Middle District of Tennessee
In office
May 18, 1908 – February 5, 1923
Nominated by Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by Charles Clark
Succeeded by Xenophon Hicks
United States Assistant Attorney General
In office
President Teddy Roosevelt
Preceded by William Lewis
Succeeded by James Fowler
Personal details
Born (1865-07-23)July 23, 1865
Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S.
Died March 8, 1930(1930-03-08) (aged 64)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lutie Woodruff
Children Dorothy
Alma mater University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Harvard University
Religion Episcopalianism

Edward Terry Sanford (July 23, 1865 – March 8, 1930) was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court from 1923 until his death in 1930. Prior to his nomination to the high court, Sanford served as an Assistant Attorney General under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1905 to 1907, and as a federal district court judge from 1908 to 1923. Sanford is typically viewed as a conservative justice, favoring strict adherence to antitrust laws, and often voted with his mentor, Chief Justice William Howard Taft.[2]

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Sanford practiced law in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, during the 1890s and early 1900s (decade).[2] As Assistant Attorney General, he rose to national prominence as lead prosecutor during the high-profile trial of Joseph Shipp in 1907, which to date is the only criminal trial conducted by the Supreme Court.[3][4]

Sanford's most lasting impact on American law is arguably his majority opinion in the landmark case, Gitlow v. New York (1925). This case, which introduced the incorporation doctrine, helped pave the way for many of the Warren Court's decisions expanding civil rights and civil liberties in the 1950s and 1960s.[2]


Early life and legal career

Sanford was born in Knoxville in 1865, the eldest son of prominent Knoxville businessman Edward J. Sanford (1831–1902) and Swiss immigrant Emma Chavannes. Sanford's father, as president or vice president of nearly a dozen banks and corporations, was one of the primary driving forces behind Knoxville's late-19th century industrial boom.[5] His maternal grandfather, Adrian Chavannes, was the leader of a group of Swiss colonists who arrived in Tennessee in the late 1840s and his uncle, Albert Chavannes, was a noted author and sociologist. In 1891, Sanford married Lutie Mallory Woodruff, the daughter of Knoxville hardware magnate W.W. Woodruff.[5]

Sanford received a B.A. and a Ph.B. from the University of Tennessee in 1883,[6] a B.A. from Harvard University in 1885, an M.A. from Harvard in 1889, and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1889. He was in private practice in Knoxville from 1890 to 1907, and was a lecturer at the University of Tennessee School of Law from 1898 to 1907.

One of Sanford's earliest appearances before the Supreme Court came as an attorney representing the appellant, Knoxville Iron Company, in Knoxville Iron Company v. Harbison (1901). The court ruled in favor of Harbison and upheld states' right to ban companies from paying employees in scrip rather than cash.[7]

Assistant Attorney General

Sanford first served in the government as a special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States from 1905 to 1907, and then as Assistant Attorney General in 1907 under President Theodore Roosevelt.[8][8]

As an Assistant Attorney General he was the lead prosecutor in the high profile trial, United States v. Shipp, et al. (1907). This case involved a sheriff, Joseph Shipp, who was convicted of allowing a condemned Negro prisoner, who was the subject of a United States Supreme Court writ of habeas corpus, to be lynched. Sanford's conduct of the trial—and particularly his exemplary closing argument— are said to be part of a "Great American Trial". This is the only criminal trial conducted before the U.S. Supreme Court in which the court exercised original jurisdiction (the court typically only hears criminal cases on appeal).[3][9] It was widely followed in the newspapers.[10]

District judge

On May 14, 1908, Roosevelt nominated Sanford to a seat on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee vacated by Charles D. Clark. Sanford was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 18, 1908, and received his commission the same day.[11]

Supreme Court

Justice Sanford in his office

Upon the advice of Sanford's friend, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, President Warren Harding nominated Sanford to the Supreme Court on January 24, 1923, to the seat vacated by Mahlon Pitney. Sanford was confirmed by the Senate, and received his commission, on January 29, 1923.[11]

Sanford wrote 130 opinions during his seven years on the Court, including his most well known[11]— the majority opinion in Gitlow v. New York.[2][12] While upholding a state law banning anarchist literature, the opinion in Gitlow implied that some provisions of the Bill of Rights (in this case the First Amendment's free speech provisions) apply with equal force to the states via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (commonly called "incorporation"). This had "extraordinary consequences for the nationalization of the Bill of Rights during the era of the Warren Court," which used similar reasoning to incorporate other amendments and expand civil liberties.[12][13] Gitlow has been cited as precedent in cases such as Near v. Minnesota (1931),[14] which incorporated the guarantee of freedom of the press, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which recognized the constitutional right to privacy,[15] and more recently, McDonald v. Chicago (2010),[16] which incorporated the right to bear arms.

Sanford authored the majority opinion in Okanogan Indians v. United States (commonly called the "Pocket Veto Case"), which upheld the power of the President's "pocket veto". Other noteworthy opinions by him are Taylor v. Voss, 271 U.S. 176 (1926) and Fiske v. Kansas, 274 U.S. 380 (1927).[11] Sanford voted with the majority in Myers v. United States (1926), which upheld the president's authority to remove executive branch officials without the Senate's consent, and in Ex parte Grossman (1925), which extended the president's pardoning power.[17] Sanford concurred with Taft's dissent in Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923).[17]

Chief Justice Taft is considered by some to have been Justice Sanford's mentor.[2] They routinely sided together in decisions,[2] and were a part of the court's conservative "inner club" that regularly met at the Chief Justice's house for libations and conviviality on Sundays.[13]

Death and legacy

Justice Sanford unexpectedly died of uremic poisoning following a tooth extraction in Washington, D.C. on March 8, 1930,[18] just a few hours before Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who himself had retired five weeks prior. As it was customary for members of the court to attend the funeral of deceased members, this posed a "logistical nightmare", necessitating traveling immediately from Knoxville for Sanford's funeral to Washington for Taft's funeral.[19][20] As had been the case in their careers, Chief Justice Taft's death overshadowed Justice Sanford's demise.[2] Sanford is interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Knoxville.[19][21]

In 1894, Sanford was chosen to deliver the centennial address at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee. This address, which discusses the institution's history, was published the following year as Blount College and the University of Tennessee: An Historical Address.[5] Sanford's papers are located at various institutions in Tennessee.[8][11]

Sanford was an active member of Civitan International.[22]

Six Tennesseans have served on the Supreme Court. In order of appointment they were: John Catron, appointed 1837 by President Martin Van Buren; Howell Jackson appointed by Benjamin Harrison; Horace Lurton, appointed by William Howard Taft; James McReynolds appointed 1914 by Woodrow Wilson; Edward T. Sanford appointed 1923 by Warren G. Harding; Abe Fortas appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson.[23]

See also



  1. "Federal Judicial Center: Edward Terry Sanford". 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2009-12-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Lewis Laska, "Edward Terry Sanford," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009. Retrieved: 12 February 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Trial of Sheriff Joseph Shipp et al. Famous American Trials. (1907). University of Kentucky.
  4. Curriden, Mark (June 1, 2009). "A Supreme Case of Contempt: A tragic legal saga paved the way for civil rights protections and federal habeas actions". ABA Journal. Retrieved February 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 East Tennessee Historical Society, Mary Rothrock (ed.), The French Broad-Holston Country: A History of Knox County, Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1972), pp. 479-481.
  6. University of Tennessee "Torchbearer"
  7. John Vile, Knoxville Iron Company v. Harbison. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Research Collections, Edward Terry Sanford
  9. Mark Curriden, A Supreme Case of Contempt. ABA Journal, June 2009. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  10. Newspaper accounts, Trial of Joseph Shipp.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Biography, Edward Terry Sanford, Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Archived May 13, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  12. 12.0 12.1 Lewis L. Laska, "Mr. Justice Sanford and the Fourteenth Amendment," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 33 (1974): 210.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Edward T. Sanford at Oyez.org.
  14. Near v. State of Minnesota Ex Rel Olsen, 283 U.S. 697 (1931), accessed at FindLaw.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  15. Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), accessed at FindLaw.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  16. McDonald et al. v. City of Chicago, Illinois, et al., accessed at FindLaw.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lee Epstein and Thomas Walker, Institutional Powers and Constraints (Washington: CQ Press, 2004), pp. 225, 254-256, 607-608.
  18. Edward Terry Sanford and the Shipp trial.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook at the Wayback Machine (archived September 3, 2005) Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
  20. See also, Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41 (19 Feb 2008), University of Alabama.
  21. Edward Terry Sanford at Find a Grave
  22. Leonhart, James Chancellor (1962). The Fabulous Octogenarian. Baltimore Maryland: Redwood House, Inc. p. 277.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "U.S. Justice Edward Sanford". TENNESSEE HISTORY Classroom FULL HISTORY STORIES. Tennessee On line History Magazine. Archived from the original on April 18, 2012. Retrieved April 18, 2012. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Abraham, Henry J. (1999). Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Clinton (Revised ed.). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-8476-9604-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 1-56802-126-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Frank, John P. (1995). Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L. (eds.). The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-7910-1377-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505835-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0-87187-554-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. p. 590. ISBN 0-8153-1176-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
William Lewis
United States Assistant Attorney General
Succeeded by
James Fowler
Preceded by
Charles Clark
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee
Succeeded by
Xenophon Hicks
Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee
Preceded by
Mahlon Pitney
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Owen Roberts