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George Sutherland

In office
September 5, 1922[1] – January 17, 1938
Nominated by Warren G. Harding
Preceded by John Hessin Clarke
Succeeded by Stanley Forman Reed

In office
March 2, 1905 – March 3, 1917
Preceded by Thomas Kearns
Succeeded by William H. King

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Utah's at-large seat
In office
March 4, 1901 – March 3, 1903
Preceded by William H. King
Succeeded by Joseph Howell

Born March 25, 1862(1862-03-25)
Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom
Died July 18, 1942 (aged 80)
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Rosamond Lee
Children Edith Sutherland
Emma Sutherland
Philip Sutherland
Alma mater Brigham Young Academy
University of Michigan Law School

George Sutherland (March 25, 1862 – July 18, 1942) was an English-born U.S. jurist and political figure. One of four appointments to the Supreme Court by President Warren G. Harding, he served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court between 1922 and 1938.


Early life and career

Sutherland was born in Buckinghamshire, England, to a Scottish father, Alexander George Sutherland, and an English mother, Frances, née Slater. A recent convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Alexander Sutherland moved the family to Utah in the summer of 1863. A few years after his arrival, however, Sutherland's father renounced his belief in Mormonism, and it does not appear that Sutherland himself was ever baptized into the LDS Church. Initially Alexander Sutherland settled his family in Springville, Utah, but moved to Montana and prospected for a few years before moving his family back to Utah in 1869, where he pursued a number of different occupations.[2]

At the age of twelve, the need to help his family financially forced Sutherland to leave school and take a job, first as a clerk in a clothing store, then as an agent of the Wells Fargo Company. Yet Sutherland aspired to a higher education, and in 1879 had saved enough to attend Brigham Young Academy. There he studied under Karl G. Maeser, who proved an important influence in his intellectual development, most notably by introducing Sutherland to the ideas of Herbert Spencer, which would form an enduring part of Sutherland's philosophy. After graduating in 1881, Sutherland worked for the Rio Grande Western Railroad for a little over a year before moving to Michigan to enroll in the University of Michigan Law School, where he was a student of Thomas M. Cooley.[3]

Sutherland left school before earning his law degree. After admission to the Michigan bar, he married Rosamond Lee in 1883; their marriage proved a happy one, and produced two daughters and a son. After his marriage, Sutherland moved back to Utah, where he joined his father (who had also become a lawyer) in a partnership in Provo. In 1886, they dissolved their partnership and Sutherland formed a new one with Samuel Thurman, a future chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court. After running unsuccessfully as the Liberal Party candidate for mayor of Provo, Sutherland moved to Salt Lake City in 1893. There he joined one of the state's leading law firms, and the following year was one of the organizers of the Utah State Bar Association. In 1896 he was elected as a Republican to the newly created Utah State Senate, where he served as chairman of the senate's Judiciary Committee and sponsored legislation granting powers of eminent domain to mining and irrigation companies.[4]

Years in Congress

In 1900, Sutherland received the Republican nomination as the party's candidate for Utah's seat in the federal House of Representatives. In the subsequent election, Sutherland narrowly defeated his Democratic incumbent (and former law partner), William H. King, by 241 votes out of over 90,000 cast. He went on to serve as a Representative in the 57th Congress, where he fought to maintain the tariff on sugar and was active in both Indian affairs and legislation addressing the irrigation of arid lands.[5]

Senator George Sutherland c. 1910

Sutherland declined to run for a second term and returned to Utah in order to campaign for election to the United States Senate. With the state legislature firmly under Republican control, the contest was an intra-party battle with the incumbent, Thomas Kearns. With the baking of Utah's other senator, Reed Smoot, Sutherland secured the unanimous support of the caucus in January 1905. Sutherland repaid his debt to Smoot in 1907 by speaking on the floor in the Senate in defense of the senior senator during the climax of the Smoot hearings.[6]

Sutherland's tenure in the Senate coincided with the Progressive Era in American politics. He voted for much of Theodore Roosevelt' s legislative program, including the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Hepburn Act, Federal Employers Liability Act, and he supported the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution granting women the right to vote. Yet he generally sided with the "Old Guard" of conservatives who battled with their Progressive counterparts within the party during William Howard Taft's presidency. He was also involved closely with the legal codification of the period, and joined Taft in opposing the legislation admitting New Mexico and Arizona into the union because of clauses within their constitutions allowing for the recall of judges.[7]

The election of Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic takeover of Congress in 1912 put Sutherland and the other conservatives on the defensive. By now a national figure, Sutherland opposed many of Wilson's legislative proposals and foreign policy measures. Sutherland's opposition contributed to his defeat in 1916, when he faced reelection for the first time under the terms of the Seventeenth Amendment. Once again he faced William H. King, who campaigned on Sutherland's opposition to the popular president. Following his Senate defeat, he resumed the private practice of law in Washington, D.C., and served as President of the American Bar Association from 1916 to 1917.[8]

Supreme Court

On September 5, 1922, Sutherland was nominated by President Warren G. Harding to the Associate Justice seat on the Supreme Court of the United States vacated by John Hessin Clarke. Sutherland was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 5, 1922, and received his commission the same day.

Justice Sutherland, c. 1937

Sutherland wrote a decision refusing to declare unconstitutional a local zoning ordinance, in Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co.. The decision was widely interpreted as a general endorsement of the constitutionality of zoning laws.

During Franklin Roosevelt's early years in office as president, Justice Sutherland along with James Clark McReynolds, Pierce Butler and Willis Van Devanter, was part of the conservative Four Horsemen, who were instrumental in striking down Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. Important decisions authored by Sutherland include the 1932 case Powell v. Alabama, overturning a conviction in the Scottsboro Boys Case because the defendant, Ozie Powell, was deprived of his right to counsel, and U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp..

In United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Sutherland authored a decision using his vague definition of the Caucasian race with the unmerited application of the common man test that classified Indians as belonging to the Asian race, despite anthropological assumptions on the contrary. This ruling led to Thind's being denied the possibility of naturalized citizenship.

Sutherland retired from the U.S. Supreme Court on January 17, 1938. Following his retirement as a Justice, Sutherland sat by special designation as a member of the Second Circuit panel that reviewed the bribery conviction of former Second Circuit Chief Judge Martin Manton, and authored the court's opinion upholding the conviction.


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: George Sutherland". 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  2. ^ Joel Francis Paschal, Mr. Justice Sutherland: A Man Against the State (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951), p. 3.
  3. ^ Ibid, pgs. 5-20.
  4. ^ Ibid, pgs. 20-24, 36; Ellen Frankel Paul, "Sutherland, George", in The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States, 2nd edition, Kermit L. Hall, ed. (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 991.
  5. ^ Paschal, op cit, pgs. 37-46.
  6. ^ Ibid, pgs. 49-52.
  7. ^ Ibid, pgs. 53-73; Paul, op cit.
  8. ^ Paschal, op cit, pgs. 82-105.

Further reading

  • Abraham, Henry J., Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court. 3d. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). ISBN 0-19-506557-3.
  • Cushman, Clare, The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies,1789-1995 (2nd ed.) (Supreme Court Historical Society), (Congressional Quarterly Books, 2001) ISBN 1568021267; ISBN 9781568021263.
  • Frank, John P., The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions (Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel, editors) (Chelsea House Publishers: 1995) ISBN 0791013774, ISBN 978-0791013779.
  • Martin, Fenton S. and Goehlert, Robert U., The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography, (Congressional Quarterly Books, 1990). ISBN 0871875543.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I., The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary (New York: Garland Publishing 1994). 590 pp. ISBN 0815311761; ISBN 978-0815311768.

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Paschal, Joel Francis (1951). Mr. Justice Sutherland: A Man against the State. Princeton University Press. 
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William H. King
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Utah's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1901-March 3, 1903
Succeeded by
Joseph Howell
United States Senate
Preceded by
Thomas Kearns
United States Senator (Class 1) from Utah
1905 – 1917
Served alongside: Reed Smoot
Succeeded by
William H. King
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Hessin Clarke
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
September 5, 1922 – January 17, 1938
Succeeded by
Stanley Forman Reed


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