Morris Ames Soper

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Morris Ames Soper (January 23, 1873 – March 11, 1963) was a Maryland lawyer who became a Maryland judge and later United States federal judge.[1] He served as a trial judge as well as an appellate judge. After his retirement (taking senior status), Soper participated in perhaps some of the most difficult cases in his career, enforcing the racial desegregation mandates of the United States Supreme Court as part of a three-judge panel in Virginia.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Soper received an A.B. from Johns Hopkins University in 1893 and an LL.B. from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1895. He was an Assistant state's attorney of Baltimore City from 1897 to 1899. He was an assistant U.S. Attorney of the District of Maryland from 1900 to 1909. He was in private practice in Maryland from 1909 to 1914. He was a President, Board of Police Commissioners, Baltimore City from 1912 to 1913. He was a Chief judge, Supreme Bench of Baltimore from 1914 to 1921. He was in private practice in Maryland from 1921 to 1923.

Federal judicial career[edit]

Soper was a federal judge on the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. President Warren G. Harding nominated Soper on February 10, 1923, to a seat vacated by John C. Rose. The United States Senate confirmed his appointment on February 24, 1923, and Soper received his commission the same day, serving as a federal trial judge until May 9, 1931, when he was elevated to an appellate position via a recess appointment.

President Herbert Hoover on May 6, 1931 gave Soper a recess appointment to become a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, a vacancy having been created by the death of Edmund Waddill, Jr. Formally nominated on December 15, 1931, Soper was confirmed by the United States Senate on January 12, 1932, and received his commission on January 19, 1932. He assumed senior status on June 2, 1955, and served in that capacity until his death on March 11, 1963.

Beginning in 1955, Senior Judge Soper sat on a 3-judge federal panel which handled various desegregation cases in Virginia. With Chief Judge Charles Sterling Hutcheson of the Eastern District of Virginia and new Eastern District judge Walter E. Hoffman, Soper heard many desegregation cases arising from the Byrd Organization's declared policy of Massive Resistance to racial desegregation. The panel heard the cases ultimately decided by the United State Supreme Court in Harrison v. NAACP and NAACP v. Button, which concerned attempts to harass NAACP attorneys (including future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, 4th Circuit judge Spottswood Robinson and federal district judge Robert L. Carter) who were bringing the desegration case.[2]

Soper served on the board of trustees of Morgan State University for more than three decades (as its chairman for half that time), and helped bring it within the Maryland state university system. His last judicial act (as a senior judge) was an order allowing an African American, Henry Gantt, to attend the school of architecture at Clemson University.

Death and legacy[edit]

Soper died age 90 of complications after minor surgery at Baltimore's Union Memorial Hospital. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Maryland Governor Theodore McKeldin were among the pall bearers at his funeral.

His papers were donated to the Maryland Historical Society Library with a 25-year restriction on access, which with a snafu meant archiving did not begin for decades.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Federal Judicial Center Bio no. 2241
  2. ^ James R. Sweeney, Race, Reason and Massive Resistance: the Diaries of David J. Mays (University of Georgia Press 2008)
  3. ^ http://www.mdhs.org/underbelly/2013/06/06/morris-a-soper-papers-coming-soon-or-25-years-late/
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Carter Rose
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
1923–1931
Succeeded by
William Calvin Chesnut
Preceded by
Edmund Waddill, Jr.
Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
1932-1955
Succeeded by
Simon Sobeloff