The Volokh Conspiracy

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Cancelling Chief Justice White

New Orleans Supreme Court removes statue of first Louisianan on U.S. Supreme Court.


Most people have never heard of Chief Justice Edward Douglass White. In 1894, President Cleveland appointed him to the Supreme Court, where he served as an Associate Justice until 1910. And, after Chief Justice Fuller's death, President Taft nominated White as Chief Justice in 1910. (Justice Harlan was quite miffed that he was passed over). White would serve as Chief until 1921 when he was replaced by, fittingly, Chief Justice Taft.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has long featured a prominent statue of Chief Justice White. If you walk through the French Quarter, you can't miss it. Well, it did at least. Now, the Court has removed the statue.

Why? Well, the Court would not say, exactly.

The exact reason for its removal — whether the justice's ties to White supremacy, official concern that the statue would be vandalized or something else — was not stated by the court.

"After consultation with the [Louisiana] commissioner of administration and discussions among the Louisiana Supreme Court justices, it was unanimously decided that the statue should be relocated to the interior of the courthouse near the court museum," said Robert Gunn, a spokesman for the court.

Earlier in his career, White served in the confederate army, and participated in a white supremacist uprising. And, of course, White joined the majority opinion in Plessy:

White, a Louisiana native who died in 1921, fought as a teenager for the South in the Civil War and afterward took part in the Battle of Liberty Place, an armed White supremacist uprising that in 1874 briefly wrested control of New Orleans from the Reconstruction-era government. His tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court, from 1894 until his death, saw him vote in the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson and several other infamous decisions upholding Jim Crow racial segregation and stripping Black Americans of civil rights.

These cancellation will not stop with Chief Justice White.

See my previous posts on cancelling John Marshall, Melville Fuller, James Birney, Robert Jackson, John Marshall again, Dianne Feinstein, all slavery-related decisions, and white judges in Fairfax County, Virginia.