Chief Justice Edward Douglass White

Chief Justice Edward Douglass White joined the U.S. Supreme Court as an Associate Justice on March 12, 1894, replacing Justice Samuel Blatchford. He was elevated to Chief Justice on December 19, 1910, replacing Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller. White was born on November 3, 1845 in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, but his family moved to New Orleans when he was a child. He briefly attended Mount St. Mary’s College in Maryland before transferring to Georgetown College (now Georgetown University) in Washington, D.C.

White left Georgetown when the Civil War began. He fought for the Confederacy during the war, although historical records do not provide a clear picture of his activities. After the war, White studied law in Louisiana and was admitted to the bar. He joined the Louisiana state legislature in the mid-1870s and briefly served on the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1879 to 1880. White then left public office for about a decade before becoming a U.S. Senator in 1891.

On February 19, 1894, President Grover Cleveland nominated White to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on the same day, and he took the judicial oath about three weeks later. White served as an Associate Justice on the Melville Weston Fuller Court for the next 16 years. After Fuller died, President William Taft nominated White for Chief Justice on December 12, 1910. The Senate again confirmed him on the day of his nomination, and he took the seat a week later. White was the first Associate Justice to be elevated to Chief Justice. Justice Willis Van Devanter replaced him as an Associate Justice.

White probably was best known for developing the "rule of reason" standard in antitrust cases. This arose from his 1911 opinion breaking up the Standard Oil monopoly. In addition, White wrote for a unanimous Court in an early voting rights case, striking down a grandfather clause that served to disenfranchise many African-Americans. He penned another opinion for a unanimous Court in the Selective Draft Law Cases of 1918, which upheld the Selective Service Act and military conscription.

White died on May 19, 1921 in Washington, D.C. and was buried in the Georgetown neighborhood. Former President Taft, who had nominated White for Chief Justice, replaced him in that role.

Selected Opinions by Chief Justice White:

Selective Draft Law Cases (1918)

Topic: Powers of Congress; Immigration & National Security

The grant to Congress of the power to raise and support armies includes the power to compel military service.

Brushaber v. Union Pacific Railroad Co. (1916)

Topic: Taxes; Powers of Congress

The Fifth Amendment is not a limitation on the taxing power conferred on Congress by the Constitution.

Guinn & Beal v. U.S. (1915)

Topic: Voting & Elections

A provision in a state constitution recurring to conditions existing before the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment, the continuance of which the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited, and making those conditions the test of the right to suffrage is void under the Fifteenth Amendment.

Pacific States Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Oregon (1912)

Topic: Role of Courts

The enforcement of the constitutional provision that the United States shall guarantee to every state a republican form of government is of a political character and exclusively committed to Congress, so it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts.

U.S. v. American Tobacco Co. (1911)

Topic: Antitrust

The public policy manifested by the Sherman Antitrust Act is expressed in such general language that it embraces every conceivable act that can possibly come within the spirit of its prohibitions, and that policy cannot be frustrated by resort to disguise or subterfuge.

Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. U.S. (1911)

Topic: Antitrust

The Sherman Antitrust Act should be construed in the light of reason. As so construed, it prohibits all contracts and combinations that amount to an unreasonable or undue restraint of trade in interstate commerce.

Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903)

Topic: Powers of Congress

Plenary authority over the tribal relations of the Indians has been exercised by Congress from the beginning, and the power has always been deemed a political one, not subject to be controlled by the judicial department of the government.