Justice Sherman Minton

Justice Sherman Minton joined the U.S. Supreme Court on October 12, 1949, replacing Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge. Minton was born on October 20, 1890 in Georgetown, Indiana. He graduated from Indiana University in 1913 and from the Indiana University School of Law two years later. Minton then studied at Yale Law School under a one-year scholarship, receiving an LLM degree. After completing his legal studies, Minton briefly practiced law in Indiana and served in the U.S. Army during the First World War.

Minton ultimately pursued a political career, which at first stalled. In 1934, though, he won one of the Indiana seats in the U.S. Senate, running as a Democrat candidate. Minton generally supported President Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. He favored Roosevelt’s plan to pack the Court in the 1930s, which was designed to prevent the Court from striking down progressive legislation. Minton lost a very tightly contested reelection campaign in 1940.

For a few months after leaving the Senate in 1941, Minton worked in the Roosevelt administration. Roosevelt nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on May 7, 1941, and the Senate confirmed him five days later. He would write over 250 opinions during his eight-year tenure on the Seventh Circuit. President Harry Truman, who had become a friend of Minton when they were both Senators, offered him the position of U.S. Solicitor General in 1945, but he declined.

Four years later, on September 15, 1949, Truman nominated Minton to the U.S. Supreme Court. Many observers voiced concerns over this choice, citing Minton’s support for court packing, personal friendship with Truman, and poor health. Nevertheless, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported his nomination favorably to the full Senate. The Senate confirmed Minton on October 4 in a 48-16 vote, and he took the judicial oath about a week later. As of 2023, he was the last U.S. Senator to join the Supreme Court.

Despite his relatively liberal politics, Minton adhered to a philosophy of judicial restraint throughout his seven years on the Court. This meant that he generally showed deference to the legislative and executive branches, siding with the government against private citizens more often than not. That said, Minton also supported racial desegregation and contributed to the legal progress of civil rights. Perhaps his most notable opinion came in Barrows v. Jackson in 1953, which determined that courts could not enforce racially restrictive property covenants by awarding damages for violations of them.

Minton saw his influence dwindle as the Court grew more liberal in the mid-1950s. He left the Court on October 15, 1956 and was replaced by Justice William Brennan. Minton died in Indiana on April 9, 1965, leaving many of his papers to the Truman Presidential Library.

Selected Opinions by Justice Minton:

Barrows v. Jackson (1953)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use; Equal Protection

The Fourteenth Amendment bars the enforcement of a covenant forbidding the use and occupancy of real estate by non-Caucasians by an action at law in a state court to recover damages from a co-covenantor for a breach of the covenant.

U.S. ex rel. Knauff v. Shaughnessy (1950)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

Admission of foreign nationals to the U.S. is a privilege granted by the sovereign U.S. government and must be exercised in accordance with the procedure that the U.S. provides. It is not within the province of any court, unless expressly authorized by law, to review the determination of the political branch of the government to exclude a foreign national.