Elbert P. Tuttle papers, 1917-1995

Emory University

Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Atlanta, GA 30322



Permanent link: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/8zzzz

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Tuttle, Elbert P. (Elbert Parr), 1897-1996.
Title: Elbert P. Tuttle papers, 1917-1995
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 792
Extent:90.75 linear ft. (100 boxes) and 6 oversized papers (OP)
Abstract:Papers of Georgia judge Elbert Tuttle, including correspondence, docket books, records relating to court administration, case files and opinions, and a small number of personal papers.
Language:Materials entirely in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Collection stored off-site. Researchers must contact MARBL in advance to access this collection.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.


Gift, 1996, with subsequent additions.


[after identification of item(s)], Elbert P. Tuttle papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.


Processed by Andrew Larrick.

Collection Description

Biographical Note

Judge Elbert Parr Tuttle (1897-1996) was a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit from 1954, and served as Chief Judge of that court from 1960 until his 70th birthday in 1967. While he "retired" to Senior Judge status a year later, in 1968, he remained actively involved in Court work until very near his death and sat on cases until 1990.

The "old" 5th Circuit, prior to its division in 1981, had jurisdiction over six states of the American South, in which it served as the federal appellate court one level below the Supreme Court, and comprised the country’s largest and busiest Constitutional court during the period of the civil rights movement. Tuttle’s court enforced and expanded the mandates of the Supreme Court, and made many procedural innovations to provide meaningful enforcement of the law in respect to civil rights plaintiffs. The Court has been widely credited with sufficiently preserving the rule of law in the American South, in the face of massive and often personal resistance, to allow a more peaceful and successful result in the Civil Rights revolution than might otherwise have been possible. On June 4, 1996, when he had been hospitalized with his final illness, the Atlanta Constitution called Elbert Tuttle "perhaps the most influential civil rights judge in Southern history." Prior to his appointment to the 5th Circuit, Tuttle had been prominent in law, politics, and in the military, and he continued to be active in civic affairs throughout his life.

Born in Pasadena, California, the son of Guy Harmon Tuttle and Margie Etta (nee: Parr) Tuttle, Elbert Tuttle spent much of his childhood in Honolulu, Hawaii, after a brief period in Washington, DC. He graduated from the multi-racial Punahou School in 1914 and entered Cornell, where he received his degree in 1918. In 1919 he married Sara Sutherland, of Newnan, Georgia, whom he had earlier met on his first trip to the South. He was editor in chief of the student newspaper at Cornell, and apart from brief service in World War I, he was employed as a journalist before his return to Cornell for law school. He received his LLB (law degree) in 1923. After settling on Atlanta as a good location for a new law practice, Tuttle founded, with his brother-in-law William A. Sutherland, the law firm now known as Sutherland, Asbill, and Brennan.

From 1923 to 1953 Judge Tuttle practiced law in Atlanta, except for the years he spent in World War II. Entering active duty from the National Guard as a Lieutenant Colonel, Tuttle commanded an artillery battalion and was wounded on Ie Shima, in hand-to-hand combat following a Japanese night attack.

While his firm specialized in tax law, Tuttle did take some cases outside that area, and evidenced an interest in constitutional law and in civil rights. Tuttle and Sutherland assisted the lawyers of a Black man, Angelo Herndon, arrested for pamphleteering under Georgia’s law making incitement to insurrection a capital crime. Eventually, acting on a petition of habeas corpus, the United States Supreme Court overruled the Georgia Supreme Court and declared the law unconstitutional in Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U.S. 242 (1937). In Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458 (1938), Tuttle argued and won, before the United States Supreme Court, a critical early Sixth Amendment (Right to Counsel) case. Tuttle became active in the then-tiny Republican Party of Georgia shortly after his arrival in the state, and was at one point Chairman of the state party. At the 1952 Republican National Convention, Tuttle led the Credentials fight to have his pro-Eisenhower delegation seated over the objections of the traditional, pro-Taft, party organization. His future judicial colleague, John Minor Wisdom, led a similar fight for Louisiana’s votes. For this critical assistance in the nomination fight, Tuttle was first appointed General Counsel of the Treasury Department and was later offered the 5th Circuit Judgeship he would hold for the last four decades of his life.

Tuttle was prominent within the legal community, and was well respected by his judicial colleagues. Known for his integrity, he chaired, for many years after retiring to Senior Status, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Activities, which advised federal judges upon ethical questions. Nevertheless, faced with the heated issues of civil rights, the judges of the 5th Circuit became the targets of vocal public attacks, faced the frequent resistance of public officials, state courts, and some federal district judges, and were even forced into a Constitutional near-crisis over the resistance of Mississippi’s governor, Ross Barnett, to court orders (see Meredith and Barnett litigation folders). Tuttle was himself accused by Judge Ben Cameron, in 1963, of rigging panel assignments in civil rights cases to favor the liberal wing of the Court - accusations which nearly led to politicized hearings in the Judicial Committee of segregationist Senator James Eastland of Mississippi.

Apart from civil rights matters, the 5th Circuit in Tuttle’s years was an already busy court with a rapidly expanding caseload. While he was Chief Judge, and for many years thereafter in support of his successor John R. Brown, Tuttle was deeply involved in judicial organization and administration. He sat by designation with federal courts throughout the country, especially after taking Senior Status, and went to the West Coast, to sit a week each year with the 9th Circuit, through most of the 1970s and 1980s. Tuttle’s wife traveled with him, by automobile, to nearly all of his sittings, within and outside of the sprawling 5th Circuit, and they were married for more than 75 years.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the papers of Elbert P. Tuttle from 1917-1995. The papers include correspondence, docket books, records relating to court administration, case files and opinions, and a small number of personal papers. Very few materials predate 1952, and most coverage begins after 1953-1954. The bulk of the collection is comprised of case files and opinions, 1957-1994. Of particular interest among these files are the records relating to a number of important civil rights related cases from the early 1960s.

The correspondence, 1953-1995, including incoming mail and carbon copy responses, is varied and ranges from fan mail to substantative discussion of social, political, and personal matters. It also documents Tuttle's involvement with several college and university boards, including Cornell, Morehouse, Spelman, the Inter-Denominational Theological Seminary and other parts of the predominantly black Atlanta University Center. There is also correspondence pertaining to law related events and organizations not connected with court administration and to Tuttle's commemorations, anniversaries, and awards.

The papers also include docket books maintained by Judge Tuttle to record conference and en banc vote tallies as well as cases before the 5th/ 11th Circuit from 1954-1990. Also present are records of the administration of the Circuit Court, its courthouses, and Tuttle's functional relation to the court system. The personal papers series is comprised mainly of records and correspondence relating to his military service from 1926-1957 and photogaphs which document selected activities primarily during the1950s and 1960s in which Tuttle was involved.

Arrangement Note

Organized into five series: (1) Correspondence, (2) Docket books, (3) Court administration, (4) Case files and opinions, and (5) Personal papers.

Description of Series