Minton, Sherman (1890–1965)

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MINTON, SHERMAN (1890–1965)

Born in Indiana in 1890, Sherman Minton attended Indiana University and Yale Law School. After military service during world war i, several years in private practice, and brief service as attorney for an Indiana state agency, Minton was elected to the United States Senate in 1934. A fervent advocate of President franklin d. roosevelt's " new deal, " Minton supported measures expanding the federal government's role in economic regulation powers despite his concern that the Supreme Court might declare such measures unconstitutional. As the Court repeatedly struck down New Deal legislation, Minton proposed that the votes of at least seven Justices be necessary to invalidate an act of Congress; in 1937, Minton worked vigorously for the enactment of Roosevelt's Court reorganization plan. After Minton was defeated for reelection in 1940, he served briefly as one of Roosevelt's special assistants. In the spring of 1941 Roosevelt appointed Minton to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1949 President harry s. truman appointed Minton to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice wiley b. rutledge; this appointment was as much a product of Truman's close friendship with Minton as of Truman's desire to appoint Justices with prior judicial experience. Ill health forced Minton's retirement in 1956.

Minton believed that the Supreme Court could not impose libertarian standards upon a government and a people that did not favor them. Minton's commitment to judicial restraint and his resistance to what he perceived as judicial policymaking followed directly from his frustration as a senator with the Court's opposition to New Deal legislation and his participation in efforts to curb the Court's powers.

Minton disappointed liberals who had hoped that he would work as vigorously for judicial protection of individual liberties as for the legitimation of governmental economic regulation. He consistently voted to uphold statutes and other governmental programs intended to protect the national security, rejecting challenges asserting violation of individual liberties. In criminal procedure cases, Minton tended to uphold convictions. For example, in united states v. rabinowitz (1950) Minton held for the Court that the fourth amendment permits warrantless searches and seizures, so long as they are reasonable. Where litigants sought review of state criminal decisions, Minton was reluctant to disturb state procedures or court decisions absent a showing of significant unfairness affecting the verdict. Minton was ready to invalidate state action discriminating against minorities, but he was disinclined to find state action. He emphasized the literal meaning of congressional statutes, rarely resorting to external aids or evidence of legislative intent; in the absence of express statutory language, federal regulation did not preempt concurrent state regulation.

Minton stressed the importance of the Court's collegial atmosphere. He disliked personal disputes among the Justices and did his best to reduce their intensity or to dissipate them altogether. Minton viewed the task of writing opinions for the Court as the preparation of functional instruments of collective policy. He rarely wrote concurrences or dissents, for he believed that separate opinions tended to vitiate the authority of majority opinions and to sow discord among the Justices. After his retirement in 1956, Minton minimized the significance of his tenure on the Court; he believed that his most important judicial act was his vote in brown v. board of education (1954) to strike down segregation of public schools.

Richard B. Bernstein


Wallace, Harry L. 1959–1960 Mr. Justice Minton: Hoosier Justice on the Supreme Court. Indiana Law Journal 34:145–205, 383–424.