Minton was the last justice to have political experience before his appointment to the Supreme Court, serving in the U.S. Senate from 1934 to 1940. As a result of his political experience, Minton believed in judicial restraint and deference to executive and legislative action in judicial decision making.
From hardscrabble origins in southern Indiana, Minton excelled through hard work, tenacity of purpose, and political friendships. Minton attended the University of Indiana as an undergraduate, where he did well in his classes and excelled in sports. He then attended the Indiana Law School, where he graduated at the top of his class in 1915. For this achievement, Minton won a scholarship for a year’s graduate education at the Yale Law School where he studied under former president William H. Taft, who encouraged Minton’s interest in politics.
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, Minton returned to southern Indiana and ran for Congress in 1920; he lost in the Democratic primary. To support himself and his family, Minton practiced law. In 1930 Minton again entered the Democratic primary and again lost. In the early 1930’s he renewed a friendship with the future governor of Indiana, Paul V. McNutt, who appointed Minton to his first public position in 1933, public counselor to the Indiana Public Service Commission. Having kept his name before the public in this high-profile position, Minton decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 1934. An adamant supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, Minton defeated incumbent Republican Senator Arthur Robinson and took his seat in March, 1935. Throughout his single term in the Senate, Minton unquestioningly supported the New Deal, and he proved himself to be a cagey political fighter. He became friends with the junior senator from Missouri who would later appoint him to the Court, Harry S Truman. Minton led the attack on the Supreme Court when it appeared that the New Deal
In 1941 Minton’s friends secured for him a position as one of President Roosevelt’s special assistants coordinating military agencies. In late 1941 when a judgeship became available on the Seventh Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, Roosevelt appointed Minton to the seat as payment for his service to the New Deal.
Minton served on the Seventh Circuit until September 15, 1949, when President Harry S Truman appointed him to replace Wiley B. Rutledge, Jr., on the Court. His appointment was not without controversy. Republicans raised questions regarding whether Minton, known as a fierce Democrat, possessed the proper judicial temperament for the Court and questioned why he would want to serve on a Court he once bitterly attacked. Although he declined to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying that it would be improper for a sitting judge to testify, the committee advanced his nomination with a 9-2 vote. The Senate approved his appointment on October 4, 1949, by a 48-16 vote, and he was sworn in eight days later.
On the Court, Minton proved himself to be a competent justice. His most sympathetic biographers describe his effect on the Court as “minimal,” while one biographer concludes that Minton “left no judicial legacy.” As a justice, Minton’s opinions reflected his years as a senator and the Cold War environment of the 1950’s. He believed that the executive and legislative branches of the federal government should be granted wide discretion for action in a dangerous world, and judicial restraint
Two years later, in Adler v. Board of Education
Atkinson, David N. “Justice Sherman Minton and the Protection of Minority Rights.” Washington and Lee Law Review 34 (Winter, 1977): 97-117. Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004. Belknap, Michal R. The Vinson Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2004. Gugin, Linda C., and James E. St. Clair. Sherman Minton: New Deal Senator, Cold War Justice. Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana Historical Society, 1997. Urofsky, Melvin I., ed. The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland, 1994. Urofsky, Melvin I., ed. The Warren Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2001. Wallace, Harry L. “Mr. Justice Minton--Hoosier Justice on the Supreme Court.” Indiana Law Review 34 (Winter, 1959): 145-205; (Spring, 1959): 377-424.
Brennan, William J., Jr.
Brown v. Board of Education
Lower federal courts
Roosevelt, Franklin D.
Rutledge, Wiley B., Jr.
Wartime seizure power
Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer