Harold Hitz Burton

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Harold Hitz Burton
File:Harold Burton.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
September 22, 1945[1] – October 13, 1958
Nominated by Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Owen Roberts
Succeeded by Potter Stewart
United States Senator
from Ohio
In office
January 3, 1941 – September 30, 1945
Preceded by A. Vic Donahey
Succeeded by James W. Huffman
Mayor of Cleveland
In office
Preceded by Harry L. Davis
Succeeded by Edward J. Blythin
Personal details
Born Harold Hitz Burton
(1888-06-22)June 22, 1888
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Died October 28, 1964(1964-10-28) (aged 76)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Selma Florence Smith, Married 1912
Alma mater Bowdoin College
Religion Unitarian

Harold Hitz Burton (June 22, 1888 – October 28, 1964) was an American politician and lawyer. He served as the 45th mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, and as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was known as a dispassionate jurist who prized equal justice under the law.


Harold was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, the second son of Alfred E. Burton and Anna Gertrude Hitz. His younger brother was named Felix Arnold Burton.

Harold's father was an engineer and the first Dean of Student Affairs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1902-1921), reporting to the president. He taught at MIT before being selected as dean. As a former explorer, Burton had accompanied Robert Peary on several expeditions to the North Pole.[2]

Harold's mother died young. In 1906, his father married Lena Yates, a poet and artist from England.[3] (She later took the name of Jeanne D'Orge.) They met that year on a walking trip in France. Yates published children's books as Lena Dalkeith. The couple had three children: Christine, Virginia (1909-1968), and Alexander Ross Burton.[2] The half siblings developed warm relationships over time. Virginia became an author and illustrator.[3]

Burton attended Bowdoin College, where he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society,[4] was quarterback of the football team, and graduated summa cum laude.[5] His roommate and Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Theta chapter) brother was Owen Brewster, later a U.S. Senator from Maine. Burton went on to Harvard Law School, graduating in 1912.

Felix Arnold Buton became an architect after also attending Bowdoin. The Burton brothers and J. Edgar Hoover were second cousins on their mothers' side. Their common great-grandparents were Johannes (Hans) Hitz, first Swiss Consul General to the United States, and his wife Anna Kohler.

Marriage and family

Burton married Selma Florence Smith in 1912. They had four children: Barbara (Mrs. Charles Weidner), William (who served in the Ohio House of Representatives and was a noted trial lawyer), Deborah (Mrs. Wallace Adler), and Robert (a distinguished attorney and counsel to athletes).


After graduation and marriage, Burton moved with his wife to Cleveland and began the practice of law there. However, in 1914 he joined his wife's uncle as a company attorney for Utah Power and Light Company in Salt Lake City. He later worked for Utah Light and Traction, and then for Idaho Power Company and Boise Valley Traction Company, both in Boise, Idaho.[6]

When the U.S. entered World War I, Burton joined the United States Army, rising to the rank of Captain. He served as an infantry officer, saw heavy action in France and Belgium, and received the Belgian Croix de guerre.[6]

After the war, Burton returned with his family to Cleveland, where he resumed his law practice. He also taught at Western Reserve University Law School.


In the late 1920s, Burton entered politics as a Republican. He was elected to the East Cleveland Board of Education in 1927, and to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1928. After serving briefly in the Ohio House, he became law director for the City of Cleveland in 1929 before returning to private practice in 1932.[6]

In 1935, Burton was elected mayor of Cleveland. He worked on issues of continuing assimilation of immigrant populations, supporting industry in the city, and dealing with transportation needs. Re-elected twice, he served until entering the U.S. Senate in 1941. For his decorous personal life and opposition to organized crime, he was dubbed "the Boy Scout Mayor."[6]

In 1940, Burton was popularly elected to the U.S. Senate, with 52.3% of the vote, defeating John McSweeney.[7] It was in the Senate that he first met fellow Senator Harry S. Truman. Burton served on the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program (Truman Committee), which monitored the U.S. war effort during World War II, and the two got along well.

Truman was elected Vice President in 1944, and succeeded as President upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

Supreme Court

Justice Owen J. Roberts retired later that year, and Truman decided, as a bipartisan gesture, to appoint a Republican to replace him. He selected Burton as someone whom he knew and respected. (See, Harry S. Truman Supreme Court candidates.)

Burton's nomination was announced to the Senate and confirmed unanimously on the same day, without hearing or debate. Burton resigned from the Senate on September 30, 1945, the day of his official nomination and took his seat on the Court the next day. Burton was the last serving member of Congress to be appointed to the Court. Sherman Minton, a former Senator, was appointed in 1949.

Burton served until retiring on October 13, 1958. According to the papers of Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren, Burton was influential in bringing about the Supreme Court's unanimity in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), when the court ruled that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

Following his retirement from the Supreme Court, Burton sat by designation for several years on panels of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

He suffered from Parkinson's disease in his later years. He died on October 28, 1964 in Washington, D.C., from complications arising from this, kidney failure and pulmonary trouble. His remains are interred at Highland Park Cemetery in Cleveland.[8][9]


Cleveland's Main Avenue Bridge was renamed in his honor in 1986.

His papers and other memorabilia are primarily in four collections. Bowdoin College has 750 items including documents concerning 47 judicial opinions;[10][11] The Hiram College Archives collection holds 69 items. The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress has 187 ft. (120,000 items) consisting mainly of correspondence and legal files. The Western Reserve Historical Society has 10 linear ft. relating mainly to his tenure as mayor of Cleveland; the collection contains correspondence, reports, speeches, proclamations, and newspaper clippings relating to routine administrative matters and topics of special interest during Burton's mayoralty. Other papers repose at various institutions around the country, as part of other collections.[11]

See also


  1. "Federal Judicial Center: Harold Hitz Burton". December 12, 2009. Retrieved December 12, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Barbara Elleman, Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002, pp. 7-9
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Virginia Lee Burton", Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Library
  4. Supreme Court Justices Who Are Phi Beta Kappa Members, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Harold Hitz Burton biography at the Ohio Judicial Center, accessed March 2, 2011
  7. Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 5, 1940, p. 24
  8. Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook at the Wayback Machine (archived September 3, 2005) Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
  9. Christensen, George A., "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited", Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17–41 (Feb 19, 2008), University of Alabama.
  10. Harold Hitz Burton Papers at Bowdoin College.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Federal Judicial Center, Resources, Harold Hitz Burton.

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.
  • Berry, Mary Frances, (1978) Stability, Security, and Confinuity: Mr. Justice Burton and Decision-Making in the Supreme Court (1945–1958) Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. viii, 286 p. ISBN 0-8371-9798-8 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 1-56802-126-7; ISBN 978-1-56802-126-3.
  • Forrester, Ray. (October 1945) "Mr. Justice Burton and the Supreme Court" New Orleans: Tulane Law Review.
  • 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 0-7910-1377-4, ISBN 978-0-7910-1377-9.
  • Martin, Fenton S. and Goehlert, Robert U., The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography, (Congressional Quarterly Books, 1990). ISBN 0-87187-554-3.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I., The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary (New York: Garland Publishing 1994). 590 pp. ISBN 0-8153-1176-1; ISBN 978-0-8153-1176-8.

External links

Script error: The function "top" does not exist.

Script error: The function "bottom" does not exist.