This Day in Supreme Court History—October 20, 1890

On this day in 1890, Justice Sherman Minton was born in Georgetown, Indiana. From early in life, Minton seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Among his law school classmates at Indiana University was Wendell Willkie, the Republican ran unsuccessfully against  Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. After law school (where Minton ranked first in his class while also playing on the university’s football team), Minton was awarded a one-year scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at Yale Law School, where he took a class with ex-President and future Chief Justice William Howard Taft. Justice Minton went on to serve as a captain in World War I and then returned to Indiana to practice law. When he became a Democratic United States Senator in 1934, he made a fortuitous friendship with a senator from Missouri names Harry Truman. In 1949, President Truman would appoint Minton, who was then  on the bench for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, to the United States Supreme Court.

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Although Minton’s failing health meant that he would only serve on the Court for seven years, his time on the bench came at a critical moment for the Court, most notably the 1954 ruling striking down segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education. Although never a leader among the group of strong personalities who were on the high court at the time, Minton proved a forceful figure in moving some of his more reluctant colleagues toward this eventful decision. Of Minton, Felix Frankfurter once said that he would not be remembered as a great Justice, but as a great colleague by the Justices he served with.

Minton’s poor health forced his retirement in 1956. He died in 1965.


This post was drafted by ISCOTUS Fellow Zoe Arthurson-McColl, Chicago-Kent Class of 2020, edited by ISCOTUS Editorial Coordinator Anna Jirschele, Chicago-Kent Class of 2018, and overseen by ISCOTUS Co-Director Professor Christopher Schmidt.

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