JUSTICE BYRON WHITE
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Reflections | Biographical Data | Related Resources
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Retired US Supreme Court Justice Byron R. "Whizzer" White died April 15, 2002, in Denver, Colorado, at the age of 84. A Rhodes Scholar and a former college and NFL football star, he was appointed to the Supreme Court by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, and served for 31 years before his retirement in 1993. During his tenure he was known as a conservative voice on a then-mostly-liberal court, and dissented from the Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade/Doe v. Bolton rulings that legalized abortion.
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Reflections

  • Wednesday April 16, 2002 at 4:23 am
    Justice White was a man of will. He willed himself to succeed; and he did, in every endeavor. On a personal note, I became engaged to be married while I was clerking for Justice White. He suggested I must not be working hard enough if I had time to become engaged. He welcomed my wife into the greater family of his law clerks and their spouses, and made us both feel most welcome. He assured my parents that, having met my bride-to-be (they had not), their son was clearly bettering himself. He lived in the present. He did not talk about his remarkable past achievements--only about what was happening in our country now and how it could be made better. He knew jurisprudence as well as case law. There was no subject on which any of his clerks was better prepared than he was himself. He worked hard and long and well. He respected public service, but most of all, he respected those who put in an honest day's work in whatever they did.

    Tom Campbell
    Stanford Law School
    Clerk to Justice Byron White, 1977-78

  • Wednesday October 30, 2002 at 10:02 am
    My knowledge of Justice White is primarily from his judgments and a few books. Nevertheless, I am impressed by the clarity and force of his thinking, his attention to detail and the solidity and consistency of his analyses. This meticulousness and driving force appears to be reflected in the many acheivements which dotted his life. I think the US has lost a public man of some eminence. His real value will be apparent to all legal scholars who dislike shortcuts and are willing to hack through confusion to interpret the law fairly and truly.

    Neelanjan Maitra
    Bangalore
    India

  • Tuesday November 26, 2002 at 3:49 pm
    My grandfather was a great man, from his firm handshake to his hearty laugh. He made a difference in every person he met. When he died there was a huge hole in my heart, but when I looked into the clerks' eyes I saw a hint of him in each and every one of them and my hole was restored.

    Emily Lippe
    USA

  • Wednesday January 08, 2003 at 9:30 pm
    My Grandfather was Kemp M White of Kenosha WI. and I was wondering if Mr. White had known my Grandfather He died before I was born so I didn't know him and I remember a blue book of the White family history and Mr. Byron White's name was in it was wondering if there was another copy of this book when my mother died our book got lost

    Joan ellen mueller
    Kenosha
    Wisconsin 53142

  • Tuesday January 28, 2003 at 8:54 am
    I would just like to say that Justice White was a person who could be counted on to live up to his word, and a man whom one could really look up to.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Tuesday June 24, 2003 at 12:25 am
    My 5-year old son and I went to Sammy Baugh's ranch last June to visit him for a day. He mentioned to me that Byron White was the toughest and smartest fellow he had ever played against. I admired Justice White for the rare ability of being a stellar athlete as well as an outstanding student. I will be forever thankful for the example he was for myself and so many others.

    TODD CUNNINGHAM
    CYPRESS
    TX

  • Monday August 18, 2003 at 9:26 pm
    Although I have great respect for Justice White and his will power. I disagree with his stance toward America's homosexuals in Bowers v. Harwick (1986). This was his "Dred Scott", and he never really recovered from it during his lifetime. I believe that this was a mistake in judgement, and only wished that he had lived to see his ill-equipped opinion overturned in Lawrence v. Texas on June 26, 2003.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Tuesday September 23, 2003 at 9:59 am
    I know a fellow who is or was a White Scholar. I do wonder how he feels about the Juarez Lee-Shelton opinion above. I would bet my retirement that Leahy, Kennedy, Biden, Durbin, Feinestein, Schumer, Kohl, Feingold, and Edwards would be opposed to White if Bush were to nominate him today.

    John Bettinger
    Kettering
    Ohio

  • Tuesday September 23, 2003 at 10:32 pm
    I don't know how he would feel about me John Bettinger. Yet like Justice White I am very opinionated myself and am not afraid to state my real position on any issue. I am not afraid to tell the truth about White's homophobia which was blatant, and am sorry if it offends you, but his attitude in Bowers in 1986 offended me and millions of others also. Take that into consideration when your prasing the "real" Justice Byron R. White.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Wednesday December 10, 2003 at 1:00 pm
    Juarez unfortunatly a justice has to judge the constitution and not use personal feelings. It would be to easy to make the court a "super legislature".

    John Thomas
    Houston
    Tx

  • Wednesday December 10, 2003 at 1:00 pm
    Juarez unfortunatly a justice has to judge the constitution and not use personal feelings. It would be to easy to make the court a "super legislature".

    John Thomas
    Houston
    Tx

  • Monday December 15, 2003 at 6:24 pm
    Dear John Thomas, I like your use of Chief Justice Hughes' metaphor "super legislature". I am a aware that the Justices have to interpret the constitution, I am very skilled and knowledged on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice White, no doubt was a very intelligent and willful man. Given the amount of time he served, 31 years in total (1962-1993), and the tumultuous times that he served, he had the chance to leave a far different legacy for himself, but chose not to. Many including myself see this as something only Justice White would have the integrity to do. He was not homophobic, and I apologize for saying he was. Justice White was simply a literalist, and it takes much gets to be such a Judge like that today.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Monday December 15, 2003 at 6:36 pm
    Dear John Thomas, I like your use of Chief Justice Hughes' metaphor "super legislature". I am a aware that the Justices have to interpret the constitution, I am very skilled and knowledged on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice White, no doubt was a very intelligent and willful man. Given the amount of time he served, 31 years in total (1962-1993), and the tumultuous times that he served, he had the chance to leave a far different legacy for himself, but chose not to. Many including myself see this as something only Justice White would have the integrity to do. He was not homophobic, and I apologize for saying he was. Justice White was simply a literalist, and it takes much gets to be such a Judge like that today.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Sunday January 18, 2004 at 10:19 pm
    Bowers vs. Hardwick was a solid decision, any comparisons to Dred Scott are inappropriate and ignorant. The Lawrence decision, which relied on nothing more than the guarantee of "liberty" in the 14th amendment without any attempt to explain how the "liberty" to engage in male-on-male sodomy suddenly became protected by the constitution, will go down as an embarrassing bit of judicial activism, similar to the "liberty" to pay employees below the minimum wage. Sodomy is a dangerous and unhealthy activity: the human rectum is only two inches long and was not made for intercourse, and people who engage in sodomy are usually unaware of the short-term (AIDS) and long-term (hemorroids) consequences. White was a damn fine judge and Bowers was a good decision.

    Silas Lynch
    USA

  • Saturday January 24, 2004 at 9:24 pm
    I agree that Justice White was a fine jurist, and there is no dispute in that. I do not, nor will I ever be of the opinion that criminalizing consentual sexual activities whether it be oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse, serves any useful or meaningful purpose. The only gain of making sex a crime, is letting uncle sam where he dosent belong, and unplausible invasion of liberty.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Saturday January 24, 2004 at 9:25 pm
    I agree that Justice White was a fine jurist, and there is no dispute in that. I do not, nor will I ever be of the opinion that criminalizing consentual sexual activities whether it be oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse, serves any useful or meaningful purpose. The only gain of making sex a crime, is letting uncle sam where he dosent belong, and unplausible invasion of liberty.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Saturday February 07, 2004 at 3:55 pm
    "The only gain of making sex a crime, is letting uncle sam where he dosent belong, and unplausible invasion of liberty." We outlaw all sorts of sexual acts in this country: pedophilia, prostitution, rape, etc. Do you really mean to say that the state has no interest in legislating on sexual morality? All criminal legislation comes down to a moral choice that certain acts are unacceptable. Please recall that when individual liberty vis-ą-vis the government is unrestrained, there is no long any limit upon the harm that one citizen may inflict on another other than goodwill.

    Anthony S
    MI

  • Saturday February 07, 2004 at 3:58 pm
    "The only gain of making sex a crime, is letting uncle sam where he dosent belong, and unplausible invasion of liberty." We outlaw all sorts of sexual acts in this country: pedophilia, prostitution, rape, etc. Do you really mean to say that the state has no interest in legislating on sexual morality? All criminal legislation comes down to a moral choice that certain acts are unacceptable. Please recall that when individual liberty vis-ą-vis the government is unrestrained, there is no long any limit upon the harm that one citizen may inflict on another other than goodwill.

    Anthony S
    MI

  • Tuesday February 10, 2004 at 1:26 pm
    What I meant was, there is no logical gain in making consensual sex a crime. I apologize for being unclear. People have the right to engage in consensual sexual activities without government intervention, and to support otherwise would simply be against standard privacy rights. Rape, prostitution, and pedophila, are entirely different matters obviously. You should abide by your own moral standards and not force others to abide by your own.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Tuesday February 10, 2004 at 1:27 pm
    What I meant was, there is no logical gain in making consensual sex a crime. I apologize for being unclear. People have the right to engage in consensual sexual activities without government intervention, and to support otherwise would simply be against standard privacy rights. Rape, prostitution, and pedophila, are entirely different matters obviously. You should abide by your own moral standards and not force others to abide by your own.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Saturday March 20, 2004 at 5:45 pm
    Justice Byron White was indeed a great man, a person one can indeed look up to. When I met a justice of the Supreme Court earlier this month, that justice whose name will be kept secret told me that their chambers once belonged to Justice White. I cannot believe that I was in the chambers of this justice, as well as those of the former Justice White. Indeed it was an awesome experience, one many ninteen-year-olds will never get, and many persons older shall never know.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Tuesday April 06, 2004 at 4:31 pm
    My uncle, Lawrence Gunnels, was Justice Charles E. Whittaker's last law clerk and Justice Byron White's first law clerk. (I don't imagine that many people got to be law clerks for two Supreme Court Justices!) He has fond memories of "Whizzer" and especially enjoyed going to the reunions organized for all the law clerks over the years.

    Glenn Gunnels
    Wichita
    Kansas/USA

  • Tuesday April 06, 2004 at 4:34 pm
    My uncle, Lawrence Gunnels, was Justice Charles E. Whittaker's last law clerk and Justice Byron White's first law clerk. (I don't imagine that many people got to be law clerks for two Supreme Court Justices!) He has fond memories of "Whizzer" and especially enjoyed going to the reunions organized for all the law clerks over the years.

    Glenn Gunnels
    Wichita
    Kansas/USA

  • Thursday April 15, 2004 at 12:15 pm
    He was cool.

    Chip JOhnson
    Denver
    Colorado

  • Wednesday May 05, 2004 at 2:42 am
    Byron White did not make anything a crime. (nor has anyone ever in the Supreme Court) The Court only rules on what can laws pass constitutional muster. They cannot pronounce anything to be criminal. White is possibly the most underrated Justice in the history of the Court. Shumer and Specter would sandbag him today, and deprive all of us of his talents.

    Brian Smith
    Globe
    AZ

  • Friday May 07, 2004 at 11:56 am
    I am writing a report on him for school he sounds like a really neat guy and I think its awesome that he got to do all that stuff in his life. Oh yeah, show some respect, Chip Johnson.... jerk.

    Johnny Appleseed
    Colorado

  • Tuesday May 11, 2004 at 6:00 pm
    I would have to agree with Brian Smith above that Justice White is indeed an underrated fine Jurist, not because of what he did, but what he didnt do. If you review the record of Justice White, he made some unpopular decisions throughout his career which went against the prevailing norms of the day. He sided with Law enforcement and prosecutors instead of defendants rights as a member of the Warren Court 1962-69, Sided against womens rights and gay rights as a member of the Burger Court 1969-86, and was a foe of Affirmative Action as a member of the Rehnquist Court 1986-93. Thus explains why Justice White does not have the reputation of other Justice such as William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, and many more.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

  • Tuesday May 11, 2004 at 6:00 pm
    I would have to agree with Brian Smith above that Justice White is indeed an underrated fine Jurist, not because of what he did, but what he didnt do. If you review the record of Justice White, he made some unpopular decisions throughout his career which went against the prevailing norms of the day. He sided with Law enforcement and prosecutors instead of defendants rights as a member of the Warren Court 1962-69, Sided against womens rights and gay rights as a member of the Burger Court 1969-86, and was a foe of Affirmative Action as a member of the Rehnquist Court 1986-93. Thus explains why Justice White does not have the reputation of other Justice such as William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, and many more.

    Juarez Lee-Shelton
    Randallstown
    Maryland

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Biographical Data

Byron Raymond White, 1917-2002

Born 1917 in Fort Collins, CO

Federal Judicial Service:
Supreme Court of the United States
Nominated by John F. Kennedy on April 3, 1962, to a seat vacated by Charles Evans Whittaker; Confirmed by the Senate on April 11, 1962, and received commission on April 12, 1962. Assumed senior status on June 28, 1993.

Education:
Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University
University of Colorado at Boulder, B.A., 1938
Yale Law School, LL.B., 1946

Professional Career:
Professional football player, Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions, 1938-1940
U.S. Navy, Naval Intelligence, 1942-1945
Law clerk, Chief Justice Fred Vinson, Supreme Court of the United States, 1946-1947 Private practice, Denver, Colorado, 1947-1961
Deputy U.S. attorney general, 1961-1962

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