Birthday: June 8, 1917
Died At Age: 84
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Byron Raymond Whizzer White, Byron R. White
Born Country: United States
Born in: Fort Collins, Colorado, United States
Famous as: Attorney
Height: 6'1" (185 cm), 6'1" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Marion Lloyd Stearns
father: Alpha Albert White
mother: Maude Elizabeth White
children: Nancy White
Died on: April 15, 2002
place of death: Denver, Colorado, United States
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
U.S. State: Colorado
education: University of Colorado Boulder, Yale Law School, Hertford College
awards: Bronze Star Medal
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Theodore Roosevelt Award
Who was Byron White?
Byron Raymond "Whizzer" White was an American professional football player and attorney who was appointed the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1962 and held that position until 1993. A native of Colorado, he was part of the football, basketball, and baseball rosters at the University of Colorado and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1937. During the 1938 NFL draft, he was picked by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round. In the 1940 and 1941 seasons, he appeared in the NFL games for the Detroit Lions. He joined Yale Law School in 1939. At the advent of World War II, he enlisted as an intelligence officer in the US Navy. After the war ended, he went back to Yale to complete his education. He worked as a transactional attorney for a period before he was made the United States Deputy Attorney General in the Kennedy administration in 1961. It was President Kennedy who appointed him to the Supreme Court. White was replaced by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993, which effectively made him the twelfth longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history.
Childhood & Early Life
Byron White was born on June 8, 1917, in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, to Maude Elizabeth (Burger) and Alpha Albert White. He grew up in the nearby town of Wellington, where he earned his high-school diploma in 1934. He had an older brother, Clayton Samuel "Sam" White.
After leaving high school, he enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder on a scholarship. He was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and was appointed the student body president in his senior year.
In 1938, he obtained his degree Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian, earning a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford in England.
After spending a year pursuing his pro-football aspirations, he joined Hertford College, Oxford. While he was in England, he met Joe and John Kennedy, whose father was serving as the US ambassador to London at the time.
During his time at the University of Colorado, he played halfback for the Colorado Buffaloes. During this period, he received the nickname “Whizzer” from a newspaper columnist.
He helped his team register an undefeated 8–0 regular season in 1937 before they were defeated by the Rice Institute of Houston 28–14 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on New Year's Day. White finished the season as the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, with Yale quarterback Clint Frank as the winner. He also played baseball and basketball while he was in CU.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
World War II
During World War II, Byron White was appointed an intelligence officer in the US Navy and took part in the Pacific Theatre. Initially, he had plans to enlist in the marines but could not do so due to his colour-blindness.
He authored the intelligence report on the sinking of future President John F. Kennedy's PT-109. When he was honourably discharged, he had risen to the rank of a lieutenant commander.
Career as an Attorney
After graduating from law school, Byron White landed a job as a law clerk to Chief Justice Fred Vinson. He then went back to Colorado. In the ensuing 15 years, he established himself in private practice, working predominantly as a transactional attorney for Davis Graham & Stubbs.
This was a period in US history when America truly became the economic juggernaut that it is today, and Denver was one of its most prosperous cities. As a transactional attorney, White provided legal service to the business community there. He wrote contracts, offered solutions to insolvent companies, and sometimes fought legal battles in court.
While the 1960 presidential election was going on, White served as the chair of John F. Kennedy's campaign in Colorado. In the Kennedy administration, he was made the United States Deputy Attorney General, serving directly under Robert F. Kennedy.
Continue Reading Below
In 1961, he helmed the federal initiative to safeguard the Freedom Riders and held talks with Alabama Governor John Malcolm Patterson.
Tenure at the Supreme Court
Byron White garnered an extremely positive reputation during his tenure in the Kennedy administration, impressing a wide range of people with his humility and intelligence.
In 1962, President Kennedy chose him to be the replacement of Justice Charles Evans Whittaker in the Supreme Court. White was later elected through a voice vote. He was a Supreme Court Justice until 1993 when he submitted his resignation. He was succeeded by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
According to White, he judged each case on the basis of the facts associated with it and not as a representative of a particular legal philosophy. He wrote the majority opinion in cases including those of Coker v. Georgia, Washington v. Davis and Bowers v. Hardwick.
He gave dissenting opinions in important cases like Miranda v. Arizona, Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha, NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, and Roe v. Wade.
Byron White held a middle position on the matter of the death penalty. He was part of the five-judge panel that delivered on the Furman v. Georgia (1972) case, nullifying the capital punishment status of several states. This ruling stopped capital punishment in US until the court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976), in which White was one of the judges who chose to uphold Georgia's new capital punishment law.
White, along with Justice William Rehnquist, gave a dissenting opinion in Roe v. Wade (he dissented in the companion case, Doe v. Bolton), criticising the majority for the opinion that the U.S. Constitution "values the convenience, whim or caprice of the putative mother more than the life or potential life of the fetus." He also wrote several majority and dissenting opinions on the issue of civil rights.
In 1954, Byron White was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was also elected to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Hall of Fame (2007) and the University of Colorado's Athletic Hall of Fame.
For his military service, White received two Bronze Stars.
He posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003 from President George W. Bush.
Family & Personal Life
When Byron White first became acquainted with Marion Stearns, the daughter of the president of the University of Colorado, he was a college student, and she was studying in high school. During World War II, she enlisted in the WAVES. The couple exchanged wedding vows in 1946. Their two children were Charles Byron and Nancy.
Following his retirement from the Supreme Court, White sometimes presided over the lower federal courts. On April 15, 2002, he passed away due to complications related to pneumonia. He was 84 years old at the time. White was laid to rest at the St. John's Cathedral in Denver.