J. Robert Elliott

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For other people named Robert Elliott, see Robert Elliott (disambiguation).

J. Robert Elliott (January 1, 1910 – June 27, 2006) was an American politician and a federal judge.

Elliot was born to a Methodist minister in Gainesville, Georgia. After he graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in 1930, he taught school to earn money for his law degree, which he received from Emory University School of Law in 1934. Elliot was in private practice of law in Columbus, Georgia from 1934 to 1943. In 1936, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, where he served four terms. He joined the United States Navy during World War II, serving in the Pacific. He returned to the private practice of law in Columbus, Georgia from 1946 to 1962 and he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1948 and 1952.

He was appointed as federal judge on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia by President John F. Kennedy on January 23, 1962, to a seat vacated by T. Hoyt Davis. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 7, 1962, and received commission on February 17, 1962. Elliot served on the bench for 38 years and was chief judge between 1972 and 1980. In his first year on the bench, Elliott issued an order halting a civil rights demonstration led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in Albany, Georgia. He later said that the decision — subsequently overturned on appeal — was made due to a threat of violence against Rev. King and his supporters. But King biographer Taylor Branch wrote that Judge Elliott was a "strident segregationist."

In 1974, Elliott gained notoriety for overturning the conviction of Army Lt. William Calley for killing 22 people during the 1968 My Lai massacre, a decision later overruled by the appeals court.

Known for his dry wit and work ethic, in later years he became the only federal judge who worked without a clerk. Elliott was the nation's oldest federal district judge when he retired in 2000.

Elliot died in Columbus, Georgia, on 27 June 2006.


Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas Hoyt Davis
Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia
Succeeded by
Clay D. Land