Martin Thomas Manton

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Martin Manton
Martin Thomas Manton (1915).png
Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
March 18, 1918 – February 7, 1939
Appointed byWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byAlfred Coxe
Succeeded byRobert Patterson
Judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
August 23, 1916 – March 18, 1918
Appointed byWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byCharles Hough
Succeeded byJohn Knox
Personal details
Born(1880-08-02)August 2, 1880
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 17, 1946(1946-11-17) (aged 66)
Fayetteville, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materColumbia University
H. T. Marshall and Martin Thomas Manton in 1915 at the Becker-Rosenthal trial in New York City
H. T. Marshall and Martin Thomas Manton and Cockrane

Martin Thomas Manton (August 2, 1880 – November 17, 1946) was a United States federal judge in New York City, who resigned and served time in prison for accepting bribes while in office. In 1916, he was the youngest federal judge in the United States.[1] Manton was the first federal judge to be convicted of bribery.[2]

Early life[edit]

Manton was born on August 2, 1880. He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1901, was admitted to the bar, and practiced in Manhattan for 15 years, for part of that time as the partner of William Bourke Cockran. In 1915 he was the lawyer for Charles Becker, the New York City police officer who was convicted and executed in the Rosenthal murder trial.[3]

Judicial career[edit]

District Judge[edit]

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson named Manton as a Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.[1]

Circuit Judge[edit]

After two years on the District Court, in 1918 Manton was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the federal appeals court for New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.[1]

In 1922, President Warren G. Harding considered appointing Manton to the Supreme Court to succeed Justice William R. Day in what was then regarded as the "Catholic seat" on the Court. Manton encountered opposition led by Chief Justice William Howard Taft, and Harding ultimately appointed Justice Pierce Butler to the seat.[4] Manton continued to serve on the Second Circuit, which during that era was one of the most distinguished courts in American history, including judges such as Learned Hand, Augustus Hand, Charles Merrill Hough, and Thomas Walter Swan.

During the 1930s, Manton's seniority made him the Senior Circuit Judge of the Court (the rough equivalent of the Chief Judge position today). He wrote a memorable dissenting opinion in the obscenity litigation instigated by Bennett Cerf concerning the book Ulysses by James Joyce, United States v. One Book Entitled Ulysses, 72 F.2d 705 (2d Cir. 1934). Judges Learned Hand and Augustus Hand decided that the book was not obscene, but Manton voted to ban it. Manton was also involved in a series of controversial decisions concerning control and financing of the companies then operating the New York City Subway.

Bribery conviction[edit]

Manton suffered severe financial reverses during the Great Depression and began to accept gifts and loans from persons having business before his court, some of which constituted outright bribes for selling his vote in pending patent litigation. Rumors of corruption spread and in 1939, Manton resigned under pressure of investigations by Manhattan District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey, who wrote a letter to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee recommending impeachment proceedings, and by a federal grand jury.

Following his resignation, Manton was indicted in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York where he once sat as a judge. The government was represented at trial by John T. Cahill, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Assistant United States Attorneys, Mathias F. Correa, Jerome Doyle, Frank H. Gordon and Silvio J. Mollo. Honorable William Calvin Chestnut of the District of Maryland presided over the jury trial at which Manton called former Democratic Presidential candidates Alfred Smith and John W. Davis as character witnesses. Manton became the first federal judge convicted of accepting bribes.

Manton's conviction was affirmed by a specially constituted Second Circuit panel consisting of retired Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland, Supreme Court Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, and newly appointed Second Circuit Judge Charles Edward Clark.[5] Manton was sentenced to two years in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary and served 17 months.

Following release from prison, he moved to Fayetteville, New York, where he died on November 17, 1946.[6] To this day, a park in Queens, NY bears Manton's name.[7]


The 1940 Pulitzer Prize for reporting was awarded to S. Burton Heath for his coverage of the Manton trial for the New York World-Telegram.[8]


  1. ^ a b c "Manton Appointed By Wilson In 1916. Then 36 Years Old, He Was Youngest Federal Judge in the Country. Got Appeals Post in 1918. As Lawyer, He Argued Case for Backer in Rosenthal Death. Acted on I.R.T. Pleas". New York Times. January 30, 1939. Retrieved 2010-12-24. At the age of 36, Martin Thomas Manton was appointed a judge of the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York by President Wilson in 1916. At that time he was the youngest Federal judge in the United States and already had behind him a distinguished career at the criminal bar and in the practice of admiralty law in the Federal courts. ...
  2. ^ 103 Law Libr. J. 666, 666 (2011).
  3. ^ "Becker's Lawyers Plan Final Move - Application for Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus Discussed with Condemned Man's Wife - Letter Received by H.T. Marshall from Judge Bartlett Submitted to Counsel". New York Times. July 13, 1915. Retrieved 2010-12-24. Mrs. Charles Becker had a long conference yesterday afternoon with her husband's lawyers, W. Bourke Cochran, Martin T. Manton and John B. Johnston, in relation to final stops in the fight to save her husband from paying the death penalty for the murder of Herman Rosenthal.
  4. ^ D. Danelski, A Supreme Court Justice Is Appointed (Random House 1964)
  5. ^ United States v. Manton, 107 F.2d 834 (2d Cir. 1939)
  6. ^ "Ex-Judge Manton Of U.S. Bench Here. Head of the Appeals Court Who Served Time for Accepting $186,000 Dies Up-State". Associated Press in the New York Times. November 18, 1946. Retrieved 2010-12-24. Martin T. Manton, former United States Circuit Court of Appeals Judge and central figure in a scandal unique in the history of the Federal bench, died today at the home of a son here. He was 66 years old.
  7. ^ "Hoover - Manton Playgrounds Facilities - Playgrounds : New York City Department of Parks & Recreation". Retrieved 2011-07-15.
  8. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes | Awards". Retrieved 2011-07-15.

Further reading[edit]

  • Danelski, David J., A Supreme Court Justice Is Appointed (Random House 1964).
  • Gould, Milton S., The Witness Who Spoke with God and Other Tales from the Courthouse (Viking Press 1979).
  • Younger, Irving, Ulysses in Court: The Litigation Surrounding the First Publication of James Joyce's Novel in the United States' (Professional Education Group transcript of Younger speech)
  • Borkin, Joseph, The Corrupt Judge (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1962)(pp. 25–137)
Legal offices
Preceded by
Charles Hough
Judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
John Knox
Preceded by
Alfred Coxe
Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Succeeded by
Robert Patterson