April 26, 2012 Papers of Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White Opened for Research

Press Contact: Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022
Public Contact: Manuscript Division (202) 707-5387

The papers of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Byron R. White, which are expected to add to knowledge of the court’s interpretation of constitutional law over three decades, are open to research through the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. At the time of his deed of gift, White specified that the papers were to be opened without restriction 10 years after his death. White died on April 15, 2002, at the age of 84.

The White papers, which total 183,500 items in 858 boxes (361.4 linear feet), document cases heard during his tenure on the Supreme Court, including material on cases involving the Miranda law, abortion, child pornography, freedom of speech, homosexuality and racial bias. A finding aid to the collection is accessible on the Library’s website.

White (1917-2002) was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy. He served until his retirement in 1993, after more than three decades on the court. That year White gave the final installment of his papers to the Library of Congress, where they joined the papers of 39 other associate justices and chief justices of the court, including John Marshall, Roger B. Taney, Charles Evans Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, Earl Warren, Harry Blackmun and Hugo Black.

White was born June 8, 1917, in Fort Collins, Colo. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1938 from the University of Colorado, where he was the graduating class valedictorian and an All-American football halfback. He won a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University, but deferred it for a semester to play professional football for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Pirates (now the Steelers). White led the league in rushing and was named rookie of the year.

In January 1939, White sailed for Britain to begin his Rhodes scholarship. While in Britain he met John F. Kennedy, son of the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, who would later appoint him to the Supreme Court. White returned to the United States later that year and entered Yale University’s law school.

After America’s entry into the war, White joined the Navy and served as a naval intelligence officer in the Pacific theater. Once again White crossed paths with Kennedy, writing the naval intelligence report on the sinking of PT-109, the torpedo boat commanded by Kennedy.

After the war, White graduated magna cum laude from Yale Law School, then clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Vinson. He later returned to Colorado to establish a successful private law practice. In 1960 he organized the Colorado Citizens for Kennedy Committee and helped to deliver the state’s delegates to his old friend at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. After Kennedy’s election, White became deputy attorney general under Robert F. Kennedy in 1961. In 1962, President Kennedy appointed White, then age 44, to the Supreme Court.

During the three decades of Justice White's tenure, the court issued some of its most pivotal decisions.

White’s dissenting opinion in Miranda v. Arizona (1966) opposed the court’s ruling that people who are arrested must be told of their constitutional right against self-incrimination before police may question them.

White issued a dissent to the landmark 1973 case of Roe v. Wade that established a constitutional right to abortion. He suggested that decision was “an exercise in raw judicial power” and he criticized the court majority for “interposing a constitutional barrier to state efforts to protect human life.”

White’s majority opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick, which he wrote for the court in 1986, stated that consenting adults have no constitutional right to private homosexual conduct and legislatures can make such conduct illegal.

White’s majority opinion in Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio, written in 1989, established criteria for the use of statistical evidence by workers claiming racial bias.

In the 1992 Mississippi desegregation case, United States v. Fordice, White’s majority opinion was that to desegregate state-run colleges and universities, a state has a responsibility to do more than simply “[abolish] the legal requirement that whites and blacks be educated separately and [establish] racially neutral policies.”

Other landmark cases in which White wrote opinions include the New York Times v. United States, in which he concurred that the government could not enjoin the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers; Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, in which White concurred in part and dissented in part in the Court's decision that numerical quotas in support of affirmative action were unconstitutional; Griswold v. Connecticut, in which he wrote a concurring opinion that a state law proscribing contraception violated married couples' due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment; and Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha, in which he dissented from the Court's ruling that the legislative veto was unconstitutional.

The White papers are available in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division Reading Room, Room 101, James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C., Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. All researchers must have a reader registration card to use the collections in the Manuscript Reading Room. The card can be obtained by presenting a valid ID with a photo and current address and filling out a short application in the Reader Registration Center in Room LM-140 on the first floor of the Madison Building. There is no cost for a reader registration card.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov.


PR 12-089
ISSN 0731-3527