Edward Terry Sanford

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Edward Terry Sanford
Justice Edward Terry Sanford.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
January 29, 1923 – March 8, 1930
Nominated byWarren G. Harding
Preceded byMahlon Pitney
Succeeded byOwen Josephus Roberts
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee
Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee
In office
May 18, 1908 – February 5, 1923
Nominated byTheodore Roosevelt
Preceded byCharles Dickens Clark
Succeeded byXenophon Hicks
United States Assistant Attorney General
In office
PresidentTheodore Roosevelt
Preceded byWilliam H. Lewis
Succeeded byJames Alexander Fowler
Personal details
Edward Terry Sanford

(1865-07-23)July 23, 1865
Knoxville, Tennessee
DiedMarch 8, 1930(1930-03-08) (aged 64)
Washington, D.C.
Resting placeGreenwood Cemetery
Knoxville, Tennessee
Political partyRepublican
Lutie Woodruff
(m. 1891)
FatherEdward J. Sanford
RelativesAlbert Chavannes
EducationUniversity of Tennessee
(B.A., Ph.B.)
Harvard University (B.A., M.A.)
Harvard Law School (LL.B.)

Edward Terry Sanford (July 23, 1865 – March 8, 1930) was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1923 until his death in 1930. Prior to his nomination to the high court, Sanford served as a United States Assistant Attorney General under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1905 to 1907, and as a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee and the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee from 1908 to 1923. As of 2021, he is the last sitting district court judge to be elevated directly to the Supreme Court.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Sanford practiced law in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, during the 1890s and early 1900s (decade).[1] 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.[2][3]

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.[1] 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.[1]

Early life and legal career[edit]

Sanford was born in Knoxville, Tennessee 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.[4] 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.[4]

Sanford received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from the University of Tennessee in 1883,[5] a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1885, a Master of Arts degree from the same institution in 1889, and a Bachelor of Laws 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.[6]

Assistant Attorney General[edit]

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.[7]

United States v. Shipp[edit]

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 black prisoner, who was the subject of a United States Supreme Court writ of habeas corpus, to be lynched. Sanford's conduct of the trial, particularly his exemplary closing argument, are said to be part of a "Great American Trial." It is the only criminal trial conducted before the United States Supreme Court in which the court exercised original jurisdiction (the court typically hears only criminal cases on appeal).[2][8] It was widely followed in the newspapers.[9] Shipp and several others were later convicted.

District court service[edit]

Sanford was nominated by President Theodore Roosevelt on May 14, 1908, to a joint seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee and the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee vacated by Judge Charles Dickens Clark.[7] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 18, 1908, and received his commission the same day.[7] His service terminated on February 5, 1923, due to his elevation to the Supreme Court.[7]

Supreme Court[edit]

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.[10] Sanford was Circuit Justice for the Fifth Circuit from February 19, 1923, until his death on March 8, 1930.[7]

Notable opinions[edit]

Sanford wrote 130 opinions during his seven years on the Court. His most well known [10] was the majority opinion in Gitlow v. New York.[1][11] While upholding a state law banning anarchist literature, the opinion in Gitlow implied that some provisions of the Bill of Rights (here 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"). That had "extraordinary consequences for the nationalization of the Bill of Rights during the era of the Warren Court," which later used similar reasoning to incorporate other amendments and expand civil liberties.[11][12] Gitlow has been cited as precedent in cases such as Near v. Minnesota (1931),[13] which incorporated the guarantee of freedom of the press, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which recognized the constitutional right to privacy,[14] and more recently, McDonald v. Chicago (2010),[15] 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 Corrigan v. Buckley, 271 U.S. 323, which upheld the right of property sellers to discriminate based on race, Taylor v. Voss, 271 U.S. 176 (1926) and Fiske v. Kansas, 274 U.S. 380 (1927).[10]

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 recognized the president's pardoning power to extend to conviction for contempt of court.[16] Sanford concurred with Taft's dissent in Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923).[16]

Chief Justice Taft is considered by some to have been Justice Sanford's mentor.[1] They routinely sided together in decisions[1] 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.[12]


Justice Sanford unexpectedly died on March 8, 1930 of uremic poisoning following a dental extraction in Washington, D.C.,[17] just a few hours before Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had retired five weeks earlier. As it was customary for members of the court to attend the funeral of deceased members, that posed a "logistical nightmare" because of the immediate travel from Knoxville for Sanford's funeral to Washington for Taft's funeral.[18][19] As had been the case in their careers, Taft's death overshadowed Sanford's demise.[1] Sanford is interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Knoxville.[18]


In 1894, Sanford was chosen to deliver the centennial address at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee. The address, which discussed the institution's history, was published the following year as Blount College and the University of Tennessee: An Historical Address.[4] Sanford's papers are located at various institutions in Tennessee.[7][10] Sanford was an active member of Civitan International.[20] He is one of six Tennesseans who have served on the Supreme Court.[21]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lewis Laska, "Edward Terry Sanford," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009. Retrieved: 12 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b The Trial of Sheriff Joseph Shipp et al. Famous American Trials. (1907) Archived 2011-01-01 at the Wayback Machine. University of Kentucky.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b c 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.
  5. ^ "University of Tennessee "Torchbearer"". Archived from the original on 2010-06-02. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  6. ^ John Vile, Knoxville Iron Company v. Harbison. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Edward Terry Sanford at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  8. ^ Mark Curriden, A Supreme Case of Contempt. ABA Journal, June 2009. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  9. ^ "Newspaper accounts, Trial of Joseph Shipp". Archived from the original on 2010-01-28. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  10. ^ a b c d Biography, Edward Terry Sanford, Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Archived May 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ a b Lewis L. Laska, "Mr. Justice Sanford and the Fourteenth Amendment," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 33 (1974): 210.
  12. ^ a b Edward T. Sanford at Oyez.org.
  13. ^ Near v. State of Minnesota Ex Rel Olsen, 283 U.S. 697 (1931), accessed at FindLaw.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  14. ^ Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), accessed at FindLaw.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  15. ^ McDonald et al. v. City of Chicago, Illinois, et al., accessed at FindLaw.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2011.
  16. ^ a b Lee Epstein and Thomas Walker, Institutional Powers and Constraints (Washington: CQ Press, 2004), pp. 225, 254-256, 607-608.
  17. ^ "Edward Terry Sanford and the Shipp trial". Archived from the original on 2010-06-20. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  18. ^ a b "Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook". Archived from the original on September 3, 2005. Retrieved 2013-11-24. Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Leonhart, James Chancellor (1962). The Fabulous Octogenarian. Baltimore Maryland: Redwood House, Inc. p. 277.
  21. ^ "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.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
William H. Lewis
United States Assistant Attorney General
Succeeded by
James Alexander Fowler
Preceded by
Charles Dickens Clark
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee
Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee

Succeeded by
Xenophon Hicks
Preceded by
Mahlon Pitney
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Owen Roberts