Justice Harold Hitz Burton

Justice Harold Hitz Burton joined the U.S. Supreme Court on October 1, 1945, replacing Justice Owen Josephus Roberts. Burton was born on June 22, 1888 in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1909. Burton received his law degree in 1912 from Harvard Law School. He served in the U.S. Army during the First World War and then practiced law in Cleveland, Ohio.

Burton launched a political career in the 1920s, and he eventually was elected Mayor of Cleveland in 1935. He served in that post until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1940. Burton remained in the Senate throughout the Second World War. He served on a committee with Senator Harry Truman, who would become Vice President under Franklin Roosevelt and President when Roosevelt died in 1945.

Truman nominated Burton to the U.S. Supreme Court on September 18, 1945, and the Senate confirmed him on the following day. Burton took the judicial oath at the start of October. As of 2023, he is the last sitting U.S. Senator to become a Supreme Court Justice.

Burton was generally considered a conservative Justice. He adhered to the doctrine of judicial restraint, trying to decide cases on narrow grounds when possible and showing reluctance to strike down laws. Some observers considered him hardworking but intellectually less brilliant than many Justices. Burton valued clarity in writing opinions, often laying out the issue at stake and his conclusion in the first paragraph.

Many of Burton’s contributions to the law came in the antitrust field. He generally voiced broad interpretations of federal laws protecting competition, such as the Sherman Antitrust Act. His support for desegregation also helped pave the way for progress as the Court moved from the "separate but equal" principle of Plessy v. Ferguson toward the landmark civil rights decision of Brown v. Board of Education.

Burton was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease during the 1957-1958 term. He decided to retire in June 1958 but was persuaded to stay on the Court until the fall. He officially announced his retirement on October 6, and he left the Court on October 13, 1958. He was replaced by Justice Potter Stewart. After his retirement, Burton participated on panels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He died on November 28, 1964 in Washington, D.C. and was buried in Cleveland.

Selected Opinions by Justice Burton:

Cooper v. Aaron (1958)

Topic: Role of Courts; Equal Protection

State officials have a duty to obey federal court orders resting on the Supreme Court's considered interpretation of the Constitution. Also, state support of segregated schools through any arrangement, management, funds, or property cannot be squared with the Equal Protection Clause.

Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding (1953)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

While it may be that a resident foreign national's ultimate right to remain in the U.S. is subject to alteration by statute or authorized regulation because of a voyage undertaken by them to foreign ports, it does not follow that they are thereby deprived of their constitutional right to procedural due process. (In other words, a returning resident foreign national is entitled as a matter of due process to a hearing on the charges underlying any attempt to exclude them.)

Lorain Journal Co. v. U.S. (1951)

Topic: Antitrust

A single newspaper, already enjoying a substantial monopoly in its area, violates the “attempt to monopolize” clause of Section 2 of the Sherman Act when it uses its monopoly to destroy threatened competition.