George Sutherland
Historical Figure
Nationality: United States (born in United Kingdom)
Date of Birth: 1862
Date of Death: 1942
Cause of Death: Heart attack
Religion: Blurred between Anglican/Episcopalian and Mormon
Occupation: Politician, Lawyer, Judge
Parents: Alexander Sutherland,
Frances Slater
Spouse: Rosamond Lee
Children: Three
Political Party: Utah Liberal Party (1883-1896),
Republican Party (1896-1942)
Political Office(s): United States Representative from Utah
United States Senator from Utah
Associate Justice of U.S. Supreme Court
Fictional Appearances:
Joe Steele
POD: 1878;
Relevant POD: July, 1932
Novel or Story?: Both
Type of Appearance: Direct (novel);
Contemporary reference (story)
Date of Death: 1934
Cause of Death: Execution by firing squad

George Sutherland (March 25, 1862 - July 18, 1942) was an English-born United States jurist and political figure. He served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court between 1922 and 1938. Prior to his appointment, Sutherland had served as a Congressman and then Senator from Utah.

George Sutherland in Joe Steele[]

Justice George Sutherland (1862-1934) was one the so-called "Supreme Court Four", a group of justices on the United States Supreme Court who overturned most of the legislation passed as part of President Joe Steele's Four Year Plan.[1] In response, Steele conferred with Bureau of Investigation Chief J. Edgar Hoover to investigate the justices.[2] Then Steele gave a radio speech in which he denounced the Supreme Court as nine old men who were not elected, and who were actively wrecking the country. Steele implied the Court's actions were deliberate, and promised that there would be an investigation.[3]

Hoover discovered "evidence" that four justices - Sutherland, James McReynolds, Pierce Butler, and Willis Van Devanter - were in fact colluding with Nazi Germany against the United States. In February 1934, Hoover led a group of agents to very publicly arrest the Supreme Court Four for treason while they were in the middle of deliberations.[4] For good measure, President Steele suspended the writ of habeas corpus immediately after, insuring that the Four remained in custody until their trial.[5]

The Four faced a military tribunal in September, 1934. Upon the beginnings of the proceedings, Justice James McReynolds informed the tribunal that he wished to enter a guilty plea and throw himself upon their mercy. The ACLU attorney's attempted to object, claiming the confession was coerced, which Attorney General Andy Wyszynski denied. Captain Raymond Spruance questioned McReynolds, who denied any coercion and claimed he received adequate treatment. Spruance then turned to the other three judges, who also admitted their guilt. McReynolds stated for the record that they believed that Steele was the "American Trotsky",[6] and that colluding with the Nazis was the best way to keep the U.S. a democracy.[7] Justice Sutherland added that they weren't the only ones, and named Louisiana Senator Huey Long and radio personality and Steele critic, Father Coughlin.[8] When their attorney, Levine attempted to stop him, Sutherland waved him away, saying that it didn't matter any more.

The tribunal went into recess to deliberate. That afternoon, the tribunal unanimously found the Four guilty, and sentenced them to execution by firing squad.[9] Their attorneys pledged to appeal. With few options, the ACLU appealed to the remaining Supreme Court and to President Steele, and published letters in the newspapers.[10] Ultimately, Steele denied their appeal, and the Four were executed at sunrise some weeks after their conviction. [11]

Sutherland was on the only one of the Four to give his title, "associate justice" as well as his name on the record at the beginning of the proceedings. Captain Spruance ordered the title be stricken from the record.

Literary comment[]

In the short story, George Sutherland and the other judges are called the "Gang of Four", but meet the exact same fate as in the novel. Their trial is more detailed in the novel.


  1. Joe Steele, pgs. 71-72.
  2. Ibid., pg. 73-74.
  3. Ibid., pgs. 76-77.
  4. Ibid., pgs. 83-84.
  5. Ibid., pgs. 87-89.
  6. Ibid., pg. 104.
  7. Ibid., pg. 105.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., pg. 107.
  10. Ibid., pg. 111.
  11. Ibid., pgs. 117-118.
Political offices
Preceded by
William H. King
United States Representative from Utah
March 4, 1901-March 3, 1903
Succeeded by
Joseph Howell
Preceded by
Thomas Kearns
United States Senator from Utah
Succeeded by
William H. King
Preceded by
John Hessin Clarke
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
Succeeded by
Stanley Forman Reed