Harold Hitz Burton

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Harold Hitz Burton (June 22, 1888 - October 28, 1964) was a member of the United States Senate and later Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was known as a dispassionate jurist, who epitomized equal justice under the law.

He was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, to Alfred Burton and Gertrude Hitz. His father was a Dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was also an explorer. He had accompanied Robert Peary on several expeditions to the North Pole. His mother was a daughter of the first Swiss Consul General to the United States.

Burton attended Bowdoin College, where his roommate was Owen Brewster, who later became a U.S. Senator from Maine. He went on to Harvard Law School, graduating in 1912. After graduating, he practiced law in Ohio. He was a United States Army infantry lieutenant during World War I, seeing heavy action in France.

Burton served in the Ohio House of Representatives in 1929 and was the law director of Cleveland, Ohio before being elected Mayor of Cleveland in 1935, running as a Republican. He served until his election as United States Senator in 1941. It was in the Senate that he first met fellow senator Harry S. Truman. Burton served with Truman on the Senate investigative committee that oversaw the U.S. war effort during World War II, and the two got along well. Truman was elected Vice President of the United States in 1944, and assumed the presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

When Supreme Court Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts died later that year, Truman decided to appoint a Republican as a bipartisan gesture. Burton resigned from the Senate when President Truman appointed him to the Court. His nomination was announced to the Senate and confirmed unanimously on the same day, without hearing or debate. Burton served until retiring on October 13, 1958. He suffered from Parkinson's disease in his later years. He died from complications arising from this, kidney failure and pulmonary trouble. According to Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren's papers, Burton was influential in bringing about the Supreme Court's unanimity in the landmark desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education.

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).

Preceded by:
Harry L. Davis
Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio
Succeeded by:
Edward Blythin
Preceded by:
A. Vic Donahey
United States Senator from Ohio
Succeeded by:
James W. Huffman
Preceded by:
Owen Josephus Roberts
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
October 1, 1945October 13, 1958
Succeeded by:
Potter Stewart

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  • Harold Hitz Burton Papers [1] (http://library.bowdoin.edu/arch/mss/hhbg.shtml)
  • Obituary from the New York Times, October 29, 1964, pg 35.

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