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Edward Terry Sanford

Edward Terry Sanford


Edward Terry Sanford


Lawyer and judge Edward Terry Sanford is best remembered for his involvement in two high-profile Supreme Court cases, serving in one as a lawyer and in one as one of the justices. After graduating Harvard Law School, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General of the United States in 1907.


That year, Edward Terry Sanford served as the lead prosecutor in the case of United States v. Shipp et al. The case involved Senator Joseph Shipp, the sheriff in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1906. Shipp was deemed responsible when a black prisoner, Ed Johnson, was lynched after being convicted of rape by an all-white jury. Despite a successful appeal to the Supreme Court, the case of United States v. Shipp et al. alleged that Shipp had deliberately disregarded a court order and allowed the lynching of a prisoner, leaving him open to charges of contempt of court.


Edward Terry Sanford traveled to Chattanooga to prepare evidence for the government and question witnesses. For nearly two days, Edward Terry Sanford also questioned Sheriff Shipp about the incidents in question. After his preparatory role in the trial, Edward Terry Sanford believed he had established the guilt of the sheriff, as well as several of his deputies and several lynch mob members.


The resulting Supreme Court trial took place in December 1906. Using the evidence collected by Edward Terry Sanford, the prosecution successfully argued for the conviction of Sheriff Shipp. After this success, Edward Terry Sanford was appointed to district judge status in Tennessee in 1908.


In 1923, Edward Terry Sanford was appointed to the US Supreme Court. Though he wrote 130 opinions as a judge, his most influential case was held in his first year on the bench. The 1923 case of Gitlow v. New York had its origins in the 1919 arrest of Benjamin Gitlow, a New York assemblyman who was a member of the Communist Party and had published an article arguing for the violent overthrow of the American government. During the course of his New York trial, Gitlow argued that because the article had resulted in no violent actions, he should be exonerated, but was convicted regardless.


The court heard the case in 1923 and issued its opinion, written by Edward Terry Sanford, in 1925. The issue at stake concerned the legality of the New York state laws and whether they violated the first amendment. Edward Terry Sanford wrote on behalf of the seven justices who concurred that the first amendment was equally applicable to federal and state governments.


However, their ruling also established a new legal precedent for restrictions that could be placed on first amendment expression of speech. Where previously the "clear and present danger" rule had been used, the opinion written by Edward Terry Sanford relied upon the "bad (or dangerous) tendency" rule. This ruling established that states could regulate speech before it led to destructive consequences, as long as federal first amendment standards were not violated.