Byron White Biography

(American Football Player and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1962 - 1993))

Birthday: June 8, 1917 (Gemini)

Born In: Fort Collins, Colorado, United States

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.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Byron Raymond White, Whizzer Raymond White

Died At Age: 84


Spouse/Ex-: Marion Lloyd Stearns

father: Alpha Albert White

mother: Maude Elizabeth White

children: Nancy White

Born Country: United States

Lawyers American Football Players

Height: 6'1" (185 cm), 6'1" Males

Died on: April 15, 2002

place of death: Denver, Colorado, United States

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

Notable Alumni: Yale Law School, Hertford College, Hertford College, Oxford, University Of Colorado--Boulder

U.S. State: Colorado

More Facts

education: Yale University, University Of Colorado--Boulder, Yale Law School, Hertford College, Hertford College, Oxford

awards: Bronze Star Medal
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Theodore Roosevelt Award

  • 1

    Where did Byron White go to college?

    Byron White attended the University of Colorado, where he earned a degree in economics.

  • 2

    What was Byron White's role in the United States Supreme Court?

    Byron White served as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court from 1962 to 1993.

  • 3

    What significant case did Byron White preside over during his time on the Supreme Court?

    Byron White presided over the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, which established a woman's legal right to have an abortion.

  • 4

    Did Byron White have any prior legal experience before joining the Supreme Court?

    Yes, Byron White had significant legal experience before joining the Supreme Court, including serving as Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

  • 5

    What was Byron White's judicial philosophy during his time on the Supreme Court?

    Byron White was known for his pragmatic approach to interpreting the Constitution, often siding with the government in cases involving national security and civil rights.

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.
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Professional Football Career
During the 1938 NFL Draft, Byron White was chosen fourth overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers). He was made a Rhodes Scholar a few days later. Oxford University let him postpone his start to early 1939.
In the 1938 season, he played 11 games, scoring four rushing touchdowns and ranked at the top in the rushing yards. He went to England in 1939 with the intention of spending the next three years there. However, World War II broke out, and he had to sail back to US.
In 1939, he began attending the Yale Law School. In 1940, he joined the NFL roster of the Detroit Lions. He played in 33 games in three NFL seasons.
He quit professional football when he enlisted in the US Navy in 1942. Following the conclusion of the war, he decided to complete law school rather than going back to football. In 1946, he obtained his law degree magna cum laude.
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.
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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.
Facts About Byron White

Byron White was not only a successful football player, but he also excelled academically, graduating first in his class from Yale Law School.

White was known for his strong commitment to public service, serving as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter before being appointed to the Supreme Court himself.

In addition to his legal career, White was an accomplished scholar and athlete, earning a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford.

Despite his busy schedule as a Supreme Court Justice, White made time to pursue his passion for the outdoors, often spending weekends hiking and climbing in the mountains.

White was known for his sharp wit and sense of humor, which endeared him to his colleagues and friends throughout his life.

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.
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