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Martin Thomas Manton (August 2, 1880–November 17, 1946) was a prominent United States federal Judge in New York City, sometimes remembered for having resigned and served time in prison for accepting bribes while in office.

Manton graduated from Columbia Law School in 1901 and worked as a lawyer in private practice in Manhattan for 15 years. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson named Manton as a Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. After two years on the District Court, in 1918 Manton was promoted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the federal appeals court for New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.

In 1922, President Warren G. Harding considered appointing Manton to the Supreme Court to succeed Justice William R. Day in what was then regarded as the "Catholic seat" on the Court. Manton encountered opposition led by Chief Justice William Howard Taft, and Harding ultimately appointed Justice Pierce Butler to the seat. Manton continued to serve on the Second Circuit, which during that era was one of the most distinguished courts in American history, including judges such as Learned Hand, Augustus Hand, Charles Merrill Hough, and Thomas Swan.

During the 1930's, Manton's seniority made him the Senior Circuit Judge of the Court (the rough equivalent of the Chief Judge position today). He wrote a memorable dissenting opinion in the obscenity litigation instigated by Bennett Cerf concerning the book Ulysses by James Joyce, United States v. One Book Entitled Ulysses, 72 F.2d 705 (2d Cir. 1934). Judges Learned Hand and Augustus Hand decided that the book was not obscene, but Manton voted to ban it. Manton was also involved in a series of controversial decisions concerning control and financing of the companies then operating the New York City subways.

Manton suffered severe financial reverses during the Great Depression and began to accept gifts and loans from persons having business before his court, some of which constituted outright bribes for selling his vote in pending patent litigations. Rumors of corruption spread and in 1939, Manton resigned under pressure of investigations by Manhattan District AttorneyThomas E. Dewey, who wrote a letter to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee recommending impeachment proceedings, and by a federal grand jury. Following his resignation, Manton was indicted and, after a jury trial, became the first federal judge convicted of accepting bribes. Manton's conviction was affirmed by a specially constituted Second Circuit panel consisting of retired Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland, Supreme Court Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, and newly appointed Second Circuit Judge Charles Edward Clark. Manton was sentenced to two years in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary and served 17 months. He died in 1946.

References

  • Danelski, David J., A Supreme Court Justice Is Appointed (Random House 1964).
  • Gould, Milton S., The Witness Who Spoke with God and Other Tales from the Courthouse (Viking Press 1979).
  • Younger, Irving, Ulysses in Court: The Litigation Surrounding the First Publication of James Joyce's Novel in the United States' (Professional Education Group transcript of Younger speech)
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