Justice George Sutherland

Justice George Sutherland joined the U.S. Supreme Court on October 2, 1922, replacing Justice John Hessin Clarke. Sutherland was born on March 25, 1862 in England, but his family moved soon afterward to Utah. He graduated from Brigham Young Academy (now Brigham Young University) in 1881, and he later attended the University of Michigan Law School. Sutherland then returned to Utah and entered private practice.

His political career began in 1896, when he was elected to the Utah Senate. In 1900, Sutherland won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives by an extremely narrow margin. He would spend just two years there, choosing not to run for reelection. Instead, Sutherland was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1904 and served two six-year terms in that chamber. He introduced the legislation that would become the Nineteenth Amendment, extending the right to vote to women. Sutherland lost his reelection bid in 1916 and transitioned into private practice in Washington, D.C. He also briefly served as the President of the American Bar Association.

On September 5, 1922, President Warren Harding nominated Sutherland to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on the same day, and he took the judicial oath a few weeks later. Sutherland became known as one of the "Four Horsemen," a conservative bloc of Justices that also included Pierce Butler, James Clark McReynolds, and Willis Van Devanter. They typically opposed the New Deal legislation championed by President Franklin Roosevelt, as well as similar economic regulations. Near the end of Sutherland’s tenure in the late 1930s, the Court changed course and largely abandoned this strand of legal doctrine.

Sutherland left a more lasting legacy in other areas. For example, he wrote the majority opinion in U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., which laid a foundation for broad presidential power in foreign affairs. Sutherland shaped the direction of property law in Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. by upholding the authority of local governments to enact zoning ordinances. He also ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides criminal defendants in capital cases in state courts with a right to counsel. This marked another step toward "incorporating" the protections in the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment so that they apply to the states.

Sutherland retired from the Supreme Court on January 17, 1938 and was replaced by Justice Stanley Forman Reed. He died on July 18, 1942 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and was buried in Maryland.

Selected Opinions by Justice Sutherland:

U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936)

Topic: Separation of Powers; Immigration & National Security

Congressional legislation that is to be made effective through negotiation and inquiry within the international field must often accord to the President a degree of discretion and freedom from statutory restriction that would not be admissible were domestic affairs alone involved.

Humphrey's Executor v. U.S. (1935)

Topic: Separation of Powers; Government Agencies

The authority of Congress in creating quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial agencies to require their officers to act independently of executive control includes the power to fix the period during which they shall continue in office, and to forbid their removal except for cause in the meantime. (However, purely executive officers are inherently subject to the exclusive and illimitable power of removal by the President.)

Powell v. Alabama (1932)

Topic: Due Process; Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The right of the accused, at least in a capital case, to have the aid of counsel for their defense is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This includes the right to have sufficient time to advise with counsel and prepare a defense.

Nectow v. City of Cambridge (1928)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

The inclusion of private land in a residential district under a zoning ordinance, with resulting inhibition of its use for business and industrial buildings to the serious damage of the owner, violates the Fourteenth Amendment if the health, safety, convenience, or general welfare of the part of the city affected will not be promoted as a result.

Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. (1926)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

A zoning ordinance is not unconstitutional unless it is clearly arbitrary and unreasonable, having no substantial relation to public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.

Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923)

Topic: Due Process; Labor & Employment

Legislation fixing hours or conditions of work may properly take into account the physical differences between men and women, but the doctrine that women of mature age require (or may be subjected to) restrictions on their liberty of contract that could not lawfully be imposed on men in similar circumstances must be rejected.