Burton, Harold H. Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Burton was the first Republican appointed as an associate justice on the Supreme Court by a Democratic president. Known for his thoroughness and for keeping tension among the justices to a minimum, Burton was a strong supporter of the Court’s efforts in civil rights cases.

Burton graduated from Bowdoin College in 1909 and from Harvard Law School in 1912. For the next two years, he engaged in a private legal practice in Cleveland, Ohio, and then worked as legal counsel for a series of public utilities in Utah and Idaho. During World War I he served in an infantry regiment of the U.S. Army, achieved the rank of captain, and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.Truman, Harry S;nominations to the Court

Associate Justice Harold H. Burton (right) with his family.

(Library of Congress)

After the war Burton and his wife returned to Cleveland, where he again established a private practice. In 1928 Burton was elected to one term as a Republican in the Ohio House of Representatives. From 1929 to 1932 he also served as the director of law for Cleveland. After serving a term as acting mayor of Cleveland from 1931 to 1932, Burton was elected mayor in 1935 and was reelected twice. In 1940 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving for four years and becoming a close associate of fellow senator Harry S TrumanTruman, Harry S;Burton, Harold H.[Burton, Harold H.].

On September 19, 1945, Burton was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Truman, a Democrat. Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone gave his advance approval of Burton, believing that his legislative experience would be helpful in establishing legislative intent in many cases. In his thirteen years on the Supreme Court, Burton wrote ninety-six majority, fifty dissenting, and fifteen concurring opinions. Wanting his opinions to be quickly and clearly understood, his writing style was direct and simple. His thoroughness required a vast amount of research by himself and his clerks.

Burton strongly supported the government in cases against subversion. He also strongly supported the Court’s efforts in civil rightsCivil rights and liberties cases. For example, in Henderson v. United States[case]Henderson v. United States[Henderson v. United States] (1950), he concluded that all people should be treated without discrimination in the operation of public transportation regulated by federal statutes. In labor cases, Burton typically upheld the rights of states to limit the picketing activities of unions. Burton and Justice Felix Frankfurter believed that picketing was not protected as a freedom of expression. In Toolson v. New York Yankees[case]Toolson v. New York Yankees[Toolson v. New York Yankees] (1953), a case in which the Court reaffirmed the antitrust exemption of major league baseball, Burton dissented on the grounds that baseball should be treated as a big business. In addition to his duties on the Court, Burton wrote many articles about Court history, Chief Justice John Marshall, and the Supreme Court building.

Antitrust law

Brown v. Board of Education

Frankfurter, Felix

Housing of the Court

Marshall, John


Yates v. United States

Categories: History