Elbert Tuttle

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Elbert Tuttle
Chief Judge of United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In office
Preceded by Richard Rives
Succeeded by John Robert Brown
Judge of United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In office
1954 – 1968 (senior judge 1968-1981)
Nominated by Dwight Eisenhower
Preceded by (Seat established)
Succeeded by Lewis Render Morgan
Senior Judge of United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
In office
Personal details
Born Elbert Parr Tuttle
(1897-07-17)July 17, 1897
Pasadena, California, USA
Died June 23, 1996(1996-06-23) (aged 98)
Atlanta, Georgia
Alma mater Cornell University

Elbert Parr Tuttle (July 17, 1897 – June 23, 1996), one of the "Fifth Circuit Four", and a Republican from Georgia, was chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1960 to 1967, when that court became known for a series of decisions crucial in advancing the civil rights of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. At that time, the Fifth Circuit included not only Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas (its jurisdiction as of 2012), but also Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and the Panama Canal Zone.

Early life and education[edit]

Tuttle was born in Pasadena, California. In 1906, his family moved to Hawaii where he attended Punahou School. In October 1910, he and his brother Malcolm built and flew the first glider in Hawaii. Tuttle then attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, from which he graduated in 1918. He then fought in World War I in the United States Army Air Service from 1918 to 1919. Tuttle was the founder of the Beta Theta chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity at Cornell and was a member of the Sphinx Head Society.

Tuttle received an LL.B. from Cornell Law School in 1923. He was a reporter for the New York Evening World for several years while attending law school. After graduating from law school, he moved to the capital city of Atlanta, Georgia, to practice law with the law firm of Sutherland, Tuttle & Brennan from 1923 to 1953. (The firm is today named Sutherland Asbill & Brennan.)

Early career and military service[edit]

Tuttle mainly worked on tax litigation; but he also did pro bono work and worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, including doing numerous civil rights cases.

Tuttle served as a Colonel in the United States Army from 1941 to 1946, in World War II, declining a desk job. He was severely injured after engaging in hand-to-hand combat in Okinawa on the island of Ie Shima. He was awarded numerous medals for his service including the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and the Bronze Service Arrowhead. Tuttle retired as a Brigadier General and was often called "The General" by those who worked closely with him.[1]

Political and judicial career[edit]

After the War, Tuttle became more involved in politics, working with the Republican Party because of his opposition to segregation, which he associated mostly with southern Democrats. He was a general counsel for the United States Department of the Treasury from 1953 to 1954. He was nominated on July 7, 1954, by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to a new Fifth Circuit seat created by 68 Stat. 871; he was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 3, 1954, and received commission the next day. Tuttle served as chief judge for seven years, then assumed senior status.

In the aftermath of the disputed 1966 Georgia gubernatorial election between Democrat Lester Maddox and Republican Howard "Bo" Callaway, Tuttle joined Democratic Judge Griffin Bell, later the United States Attorney General, in striking down the Georgia constitutional provision requiring that the legislature chose the governor if no general election candidate receives a majority of the vote. The judges concluded that a malapportioned legislature might "dilute" the votes of the candidate with a plurality, in this case Callaway. Bell compared legislative selection to the former County Unit System, a kind of electoral college formerly used in Georgia to select the governor but invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Bell and Tuttle granted a temporary suspension of their ruling to permit appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and stipulated that the state could resolve the deadlock so long as the legislature not make the selection. In a five-to-two decision known as Fortson v. Morris, the high court struck down the Bell-Tuttle legal reasoning and directed the legislature to choose between Maddox and Callaway. Two liberal justices, William O. Douglas and Abe Fortas, had argued against legislative selection of the governor, but the court majority, led this time by Hugo Black took the strict constructionist line and cleared the path for Maddox's ultimate election.[2]

On October 1, 1981, Tuttle was transferred to the new Eleventh Circuit, and continued to serve as a senior judge until his death on June 23, 1996. The Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals Building was named in his honor in 1989.

For his work in civil rights cases in the South, Tuttle received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981. He has a star on Atlanta's International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Billy Hathorn, "The Frustration of Opportunity: Georgia Republicans and the Election of 1966", Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia and the South, XXI (Winter 1987-1988), pp. 46-47


Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Succeeded by
Lewis Render Morgan