Edward Douglas White II
1845 - 1921
Edward D. White II was born on a farm in LaFourche Parish, Louisiana, on November 3, 1845. He attended Mount St. Mary's College in Maryland, the Jesuit College in New Orleans, and Georgetown College in Washington D.C. He left college at sixteen to enlist as a private in the Confederate Army. In the Battle of Port Hudson, north of Baton Rouge, he was taken prisoner in 1863 and was paroled. At the close of the War for Southern Independence he read law in New Orleans in the office of Judge Edward Bermudez and at twenty-three was admitted to the bar.
White rose rapidly in his profession, and was elected to the state senate in 1874. In the state legislature White was closely identified with the anti-lottery movement, and he worked ardently for the construction of levees along the Mississippi. On that memorable day of September 14, 1874, he carried a musket and assembled with others at the Clay statue on Canal Street to participate in the demonstration that finally broke the back of carpetbag rule in Louisiana. White was appointed associate justice of the State Supreme Court in 1879, and was elected to the U.S. Senate from Louisiana in 1891. White was appointed associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President Cleveland in 1894, was elevated to the office of chief justice of the U.S. by President Taft in 1910, and at the time of his death in 1921 had served twenty-seven years on the nation's highest tribunal.
White fought for a protective tariff on sugar in the U.S. Senate. As a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court his one passion was the Constitution. During his term he wrote opinions in seven hundred cases. His judicial philosophy classified him neither as a liberal nor as a conservative. As he construed the law, in keeping with his oath of office and the light of understanding, he usually found himself somewhere between the extremes. In delineating the character of a colleague, Judge White inadvertently disclosed his own judicial ideals: There was a "fixed opinion on his part as to...the Constitution...no thought of expediency, no mere conviction about economic problems, no belief that the guarantees were becoming obsolete or that their enforcement would incur popular odium ever swayed his unalterable conviction and irrevocable purpose to uphold and protect the great guarantees with every faculty which he possessed."
In 1895 the Supreme Court rendered three decisions that gave rise to popular criticism. One decision was in favor of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act; another held the Federal Income Tax of 1894 void in part; the third upheld the power of the federal government to issue injunctions in labor disputes. Judge White dissented in the income tax case. Coming from the only state whose laws are based upon the Napoleonic Code, Judge White brought to the Supreme Court a knowledge of both civil and common law. He sat upon the bench in suspicious and explosive times. The country had not fully recovered from the War for Southern Independence, and he became a stabilizing factor in a nation politically and socially shell-shocked.
A man of great bulk, broad mind, and big heart, he presided over the Supreme Court with a dignity that inspired confidence and respect. A tireless worker, he accelerated the machinery of the Court to make a record that won the praise of both bench and bar. He was gracious, genial, lovable, and popular. He was a man of learning, integrity, and judicial temperament.
Upon the horizon of humanity there looms now and then a man of justice; he always comes out of the crowd, for he must be the product of experience. Unbiased, he does not let prejudice, personal opinion, nor political consideration deter him in the interpretation of the law, in keeping with his oath and the Constitution. Edward Douglas White II was such a man. Soldier, senator, statesman, planter, and jurist, only now and then is a man with such conviction and devotion to the public well recorded in the pages of political history.