Edward Terry Sanford (July 23, 1865 – March 8, 1930) was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court from 1923 until his death in 1930. Prior to his nomination to the high court, Sanford served as an Assistant Attorney General under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1905 to 1907, and as a federal district court judge (Eastern and Middle Districts of Tennessee) from 1908 to 1923.
Sanford was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1865, the eldest son of prominent Knoxville businessman Edward J. Sanford (1831–1902) and Swiss immigrant Emma Chavannes. Sanford’s father was president or vice president of nearly a dozen banks and corporations and one of the primary driving forces behind Knoxville’s late-19th century industrial boom. In 1891, Sanford married Lutie Mallory Woodruff, the daughter of Knoxville hardware magnate W.W. Woodruff.
Sanford received a B.A. and a Ph.B. from the University of Tennessee in 1883, a B.A. from Harvard University in 1885, an M.A. from Harvard in 1889, and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1889. He was in private practice in Knoxville from 1890 to 1907, and was a lecturer at the University of Tennessee as well as its School of Law from 1898 to 1907.
During his time in the Department of Justice, Sanford first served as a special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States from 1905 to 1907. In 1907, he became Assistant Attorney General. In that position, Sanford served as lead prosecutor during the high-profile trial of Chattanooga Sheriff Joseph Shipp in 1907. U.S. v. Shipp to date is the only criminal trial conducted by the Supreme Court in which the court exercised original jurisdiction. Shipp was convicted of allowing a condemned black prisoner, who was the subject of a United States Supreme Court writ of habeas corpus, to be lynched.
On May 14, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt nominated Sanford to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern and Middle Districts of Tennessee. He served in this capacity for 15 years and left a distinguished record.
On January 24, 1923, President Warren Harding nominated Sanford to the Supreme Court. Upon confirmation by the Senate, Sanford received his commission five days later. Sanford wrote 130 opinions during his seven years on the Court, including Gitlow v. New York (1925), in which he assumed that some provisions of the Bill of Rights (in this case the First Amendment’s free speech provisions) apply with equal force to the states via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (commonly called “incorporation”). During the era of the Warren Court, the incorporation doctrine was used to incorporate other amendments and expand civil liberties and civil rights.
Justice Sanford unexpectedly died of uremic poisoning following a tooth extraction in Washington, D.C. on March 8, 1930, a few hours before former Chief Justice and President William Howard Taft. He was 64 years old.