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Supreme Court Justices

Edward D. White (1845-1921)

Edward Douglass White was born in Louisiana on November 3, 1845. He was born into wealth and privilege. His father owned a large sugar plantation, and his family was a slaveholding family. His father was also active in politics in Louisiana, serving as a judge, governor, and United States representative. White, a Roman Catholic, was educated at Mount St. Mary's College in Maryland and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He joined the Confederate Army during the Civil War, and was a prisoner of war. White read law in New Orleans after the War. White worked to end Reconstruction in Louisiana (he was a "Redeemer" in white southern terminology), and in 1878, was named to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Two years later, his patron lost the governorship, and White was ousted from the Court. After eight successful years in the practice of law, White's patron Francis T. Nicholls was elected Governor, and White was appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy. He spent three years in the Senate, and was nominated to the Court to take the seat of Samuel Blatchford. White joined a Court that was worried about the changes in population, economy, and culture that were transforming the United States. As a sugar man, White joined the majority in declaring the Sherman Antitrust Act inapplicable to a sugar manufacturing monopoly in United States v. E.C. Knight. He dissented in the Income Tax Cases, which is not surprising considering that he voted to adopt the income tax as a Senator the year before (whether White should have recused himself is more a question of today's ethical concerns than those of the late 19th century). In general, White joined the Court's opinions concerning substantive due process, and was skeptical of progressive legislative reform measures.

In 1910, Melville Fuller died. President William Howard Taft decided to nominate White as Chief Justice, and to nominate Willis Van Devanter to take White's associate justice seat. White became the first associate justice to be appointed Chief Justice.

In one of his first opinions as Chief Justice, White authored the Court's decision in Standard Oil Co. v. United States (1911), which interpreted the Sherman Antitrust Act through a "rule of reason."

On May 19, 1921, White died. He was replaced on the Court by the man who had nominated him to the post, William Howard Taft. 

In 1894, White was married to Virginia Montgomery Kent.