Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sherman Minton

Sherman MintonSherman Minton

My Louisville colleague, Kurt Metzmeier, has continued his blog's series on Supreme Court Justices buried in and near Louisville. Installments 1 and 2 — focusing, respectively, on Justices John McKinley and Louis D. Brandeis — are now accompanied by Justice Sherman Minton: A Bridge Between Eras.

Sherman Minton BridgeKurt's title alludes cheekily to the Sherman Minton Bridge, which connects Louisville with Minton's hometown, New Albany, Indiana. Minton's judicial career is often evaluated in terms suitable for pieces of civil engineering: solid, dependable, unspectacular. Oyez Baseball argues that the baseball player most like Sherman Minton was Wally Pipp:
Sherman MintonWally Pipp
Upon the occasion of his retirement from the Court, Minton reportedly said: "There will be more interest in who will succeed me than in my passing. I'm an echo." Indeed. President Dwight Eisenhower inserted William Brennan into the lineup to take Minton’s seat. When Pipp asked for a day off due to a headache in 1925, Yankee manager Miller Huggins looked down his bench and found third-year player Lou Gehrig, who remained in the lineup for 2,130 consecutive games. Both Minton and Pipp are best known, then, for the players that followed them at their respective positions.
This is too uncharitable a view of Sherman Minton's legacy. See generally Linda C. Gugin & James E. St. Clair, Sherman Minton: New Deal Senator, Cold War Justice (1997). I can name at least five reasons, besides bridges and baseball, to give Minton more credit:
  1. Minton's Senate credentialsUnited States Senator for Indiana from 1935 to 1941, Minton was an experienced and accomplished legislator. He is the last former member of Congress to serve on the Supreme Court; aside from Sandra Day O'Connor, who had been a state legislator in Arizona, no other former legislator has become a Supreme Court Justice. Minton applied his sense of Realpolitik and legislative supremacy to disputes over statutory interpretation. Of course, that same instinct led him to support Franklin Roosevelt's Court-packing plan and to side with the government in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951), and The Steel Seizure Case, 343 U.S. 579 (1952).

  2. Minton had the good sense to leave after seven years on the Court. See Justin Crowe & Christopher Karpowitz, Where Have You Gone, Sherman Minton? The Decline of the Short-Term Supreme Court Justice. Ill health did force his hand, but Minton continued to hear lower court cases after he retired from the Supreme Court.

  3. Minton despised racial segregation and was a firm supporter of Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

  4. Until the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005, Minton was the only Hoosier to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.

  5. He is the namesake of the American Inns of Court chapter for Clark and Floyd Counties, Indiana.


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