Sanford, Edward T. (1865–1930)

views updated

SANFORD, EDWARD T. (1865–1930)

Edward Terry Sanford was the last of warren harding's four Supreme Court appointments. He had served fifteen years as a federal judge in Tennessee and, as with many of Harding's judicial appointments, he was chosen in large part because of Chief Justice william howard taft's lobbying activities.

For nearly seven years, Sanford loyally followed and served Taft. He began his tenure by joining a rare Taft dissent when the Court invalidated the district of columbia minimum wage law in adkins v. children ' s hospital (1923). He was a regular member of the Chief Justice's Sunday afternoon extracurricular conferences, which excluded the Court's more liberal members such as oliver wendell holmes, louis d. brandeis, and harlan f. stone. In a final coincidence, Sanford died on March 8, 1930, the same day as Taft.

Sanford's most important contribution to constitutional law during his brief tenure came in the area of civil liberties. In gitlow v. new york (1925) he led the Court in sustaining New York's criminal anarchy statute. Sanford's opinion largely reiterated the Court's bad tendency test regarding freedom of speech, arguing that the state had a right to protect itself against speech that called for the overthrow of government. The state could not, he said, "reasonably be required to measure the danger from every such utterance in the nice balance of a jeweler's scale." But Sanford also acknowledged that the fourteenth amendment incorporated the first amendment's guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press against state action. That incorporation doctrine had momentous consequences for the Court's later views of civil rights and liberties.

In whitney v. california (1927) Sanford again sustained a criminal anarchy conviction. But the same day, in Fiske v. Kansas, he spoke for the Court when for the first time the Justices overturned a state conviction on the ground that a criminal anarchy statute had been applied to deny the defendant his freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Sanford found that the state had failed to provide evidence of the organization's criminal or violent purposes. Shortly after Sanford's death, the Court nullified a state criminal anarchy statute and a state law sanctioning the suppression of certain newspapers, with both decisions (stromberg v. california, 1931; near v. minnesota, 1931) implementing Sanford's Gitlow incorporation doctrine.

Sanford generally concurred with the Court's decisions involving national and state economic regulation. For example, he joined in approving zoning laws in euclid v. ambler realty co. (1926), and he agreed that a Pennsylvania statute requiring drugstore owners to be registered pharmacists was unconstitutional in Lambert v. Yellowley (1926). But in Maple Floor Association v. United States (1925) Sanford joined Taft's dissent protesting the Court's holding that trade associations did not violate the sherman antitrust act. In Tyson v. Banton (1927) Sanford, dissenting from a ruling that invalidated regulations of theater ticket brokers, invoked the state police power doctrine of the granger cases (1877); he argued that because the brokers' business was affected with a public interest, the legislature could protect "the public from extortion and exorbitant rates."

Sanford's Supreme Court tenure was, on the whole, unremarkable. There is irony in that his Gitlow opinion, despite its antilibertarian result, laid the foundation for the mid-twentieth-century libertarian revolution and the nationalization of American civil rights and civil liberties.

Stanley I. Kutler


Ragan, Allen E. 1943 Mr. Justice Sanford. East Tennessee Historical Society Publications 15:74–88.

About this article

Sanford, Edward T. (1865–1930)

Updated About content Print Article


Sanford, Edward T. (1865–1930)