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Little Known Characters in America

Little Known Characters in America: Marton Thomas Manton

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Martin Thomas Manton

Martin Thomas Manton (August 2, 1880-November 17, 1946) was a United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and previously was a United States district judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Manton was acquitted of bribery, but convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

As most lawyers Manton entered private practice in New York after completing his bachelor of law in 1901 from Columbia Law School. He would practice law from 1901 to 1916.

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Manton’s most notable client was Charles Becker, a New York City police officer who was convicted and executed in the Rosenthal murder trial.

President Woodrow Wilson nominated Manton to a seat on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on August 15, 1916, and received his commission the same day. Advancing to the 2nd Circuit, his previous position was terminated on March 22, 1918.

In 1922, President Warren G. Harding considered appointing Manton to the Supreme Court of the United States in what was then regarded the “Catholic seat” on the court. However, opposition led by Chief Justice William Howard Taft resulted in Manton not receiving the position. Rather, Justice Pierce Butler was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

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Manton’s seniority in the 2nd Circuit allowed him to write a memorable dissenting opinion in the obscenity litigation concerning the book "Ulysses" authored by James Joyce. Later, Judges Learned Hand and Augusts Noble Hand decided that the book was not obscene. Manton was also involved in a series of controversial decisions concerning control and financing of the companies then operating the New York City Subway.

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As many in the country, Manton suffered severe financial reverses during the Great Depression and began to accept gifts and loans from persons having business before his court. A few individuals constituted outright bribes for selling his vote in pending patent litigation.

Rumors of corruption spread and in 1939, Manton resigned under pressure of investigations by Manhattan District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey recommended impeachment proceedings by a federal grand jury. It didn’t take long for the jury to convict Manton for conspiracy to obstruct justice. The penalty consisted of Manton serving two years in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.

After Manton was released from prison he moved to Fayetteville, New York where he died on November 1, 1946.

Today, a park in Queens, New York bears Manton’s name.


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