A key figure on the Supreme Court under Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist who, though viewed by many as something of an enigma, was often a swing vote. White wrote several important opinions regarding the power of the press and led the Court in crafting a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.
White was a well-known football player at the University of Colorado, where he was given the nickname “Whizzer.” He played professional football in 1938 for one season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was named the National Football League rookie of the year. In 1939 he studied at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, but his stay was cut short by the beginning of World War II (1941-1945). Upon his return from England, White entered Yale Law School and played football for two seasons (1940-1941) with the Detroit Lions. In May, 1942, he joined the U.S. Navy, serving in the Pacific theater as a naval intelligence officer and attaining the rank of lieutenant. After the war, he finished law school and clerked for Chief Justice of the United States Frederick Vinson during the October, 1946, term. After several years of private practice following his clerkship, he helped organize John F. Kennedy’s successful 1960 presidential campaign. Kennedy appointed White deputy attorney general in early 1961.
White was the first of the two Supreme Court nominations Kennedy made. His nomination engendered little controversy. He served on the Court from 1962 until 1993. During that time, he participated in 807 cases that split the Court five to four (second only to Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.) and was in the majority in 65 percent of them. White joined the Court while Earl Warren was chief justice but was not a major figure in the Warren Court’s rulings. He dissented from several of the Court’s decisions expanding the rights of criminal defendants, most notably Miranda v. Arizona
White played a major role in the development of the Court’s jurisprudence with respect to media law, the establishment of a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule, and the Court’s refusal to place constitutional limits on statutes categorizing people on the basis of their sexual preferences. He authored opinions for majorities or pluralities in several cases, rejecting claims by news organizations that they deserved special protection given their important role in informing the public, including Branzburg v. Hayes (1972)
Byron R. White
White was dissatisfied with the breadth of the Court’s exclusionary rule, which prevented the use of any evidence obtained in violation of a criminal defendant’s constitutional rights. He eventually convinced his colleagues to adopt a good faith exception
Two of White’s most noteworthy dissents were in Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha
Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004. Hensley, Thomas R. The Rehnquist Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2006. Hutchinson, Dennis J. The Man Who Once Was Whizzer White: A Portrait of Justice Byron R. White. New York: Free Press, 1998. Italia, Bob. Byron White. Edina, Minn.: Abdo & Daughers, 1992. Schwartz, Bernard. Super Chief, Earl Warren and His Supreme Court: A Judicial Biography. New York: New York University Press, 1983. Starr, Kenneth. “Justice Byron R. White: The Last New Dealer.” Yale Law Journal 103, no. 1 (October, 1993): 37-41. Urofsky, Melvin I. The Warren Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2001. Yarbrough, Tinsley E. The Burger Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2000.
Bowers v. Hardwick
Branzburg v. Hayes
Gay and lesbian rights
Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha
Leon, United States v.
Privacy, right to
Roe v. Wade
Separation of powers