White arrived at the Supreme Court during a historic moment when the Court increasingly served as a conservative bulwark against a rising tide of political progressivism. White’s career on the Court fit comfortably within its dominant conscrvativism, though this career was punctuated from time to time with somewhat erratic departures from the general mold. The Court during this period generally protected business and property interests from state and federal regulatory measures, most famously in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. (1895), which declared tire federal income tax unconstitutional, and Lochner v. New York (1905), which held un-constitutional a state law that set maximum work hours for bakers. Though generally aligned with the Court’s direction in this area, White dissented in both these landmark cases, inaugurating a pattern of seemingly inconsistent decisions that would characterize his judicial career.
Although personable in his relations with the other members of the court, Chief Justice White did not earn recognition either as an exceptional administrator or as a brilliant jurist. He did, however, have at least one lasting impact on American law by grafting onto the Sherman Antitrust Act the so-called rule of reason. The Sherman Act prohibited business practices and arrangements that acted as restraints on trade, such as monopolies. But in the landmark an-titrust case, Standard. Oil v United States (1911), Chief Justice White greatly blunted the potential reach of the Act by limiting its prohibition to “unreasonable” business practices and arrangements. By this interpretation White and his colleagues on the Court assured that the 20th-century United States would be largely hospitable to the growth of massive corporations and other business enterprises.
Party affiliation: Democratic Party