Justice Edward Terry Sanford

Justice Edward Terry Sanford joined the U.S. Supreme Court on February 19, 1923, replacing Justice Mahlon Pitney. Sanford was born on July 23, 1865 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He received two degrees from the University of Tennessee in 1883. Sanford then continued his education at Harvard University, receiving a B.A. in 1885 and an M.A. in 1889. Also that year, he received an L.L.B. from Harvard Law School.

After completing his education, Sanford practiced law in Tennessee and taught at the University of Tennessee School of Law. He served as a U.S. Assistant Attorney General in 1907-1908 during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. In May 1908, Roosevelt nominated Sanford to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. He spent nearly 15 years at the federal trial court level.

On January 24, 1923, President Warren Harding nominated Sanford to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him just five days later, and he took the judicial oath in the following month. Sanford was a close friend of Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had urged his nomination. He often joined Taft and other conservative Justices in gatherings at Taft’s home on Sunday afternoons.

Sanford wrote 130 opinions during his seven years on the Court. His most notable contribution came in the 1925 decision of Gitlow v. New York. Before reaching the substance of the case, Sanford found that the Fourteenth Amendment "incorporates" the free speech and free press protections of the First Amendment so that they apply to the states. Over time, the Supreme Court has found that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates most of the Bill of Rights.

Sanford died suddenly on March 8, 1930 from uremic poisoning after a dental procedure. In an ironic twist of fate, his friend Taft died on the same day. Sanford was buried in Knoxville and was replaced on the Supreme Court by Justice Owen Josephus Roberts.

Selected Opinions by Justice Sanford:

Gitlow v. New York (1925)

Topic: Free Speech

The government cannot reasonably be required to defer taking measures against revolutionary utterances advocating the overthrow of organized government until they lead to actual disturbances of the peace or imminent danger of the government's destruction. (This case is also significant for applying the First Amendment to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.)