Edward Douglass White was born on November 3, 1845, near Thibodaux, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, to a distinguished family. He was educated at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland; at Jesuit College in New Orleans; and at Georgetown College (now University) in Washington, D.C. In 1861 he left school and enlisted in the Confederate Army. After the war he studied law, and in 1868 he was admitted to the bar. He served in the state Senate from 1874 to 1879 and on the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1879 to 1880. When the court was reorganized, he resumed his law practice.
An opponent of the lottery, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1890 and served until 1894, when he was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Cleveland. Appointed chief justice by President Taft in 1910, he was the first justice to be so elevated, and he served until his death.
White's 27 years on the high bench spanned a period of rapid social and economic change, including the development and expansion of the powers of the federal government. His commitment to nationalism was particularly evident in decisions regarding congressional power over interstate commerce. His major contribution to jurisprudence was the 1911 "rule of reason" decision, applied to anti-trust cases. He also supported a federal income tax. He had a working knowledge of several languages and presided over the Court with energy and dignity. He was awarded an honorary degree by Princeton University in 1912. White died in Washington, D.C., on May 19, 1921.