Born: Sunday, May 22nd, 1892
Died: Friday, September 12th, 1958
Birthplace: Wamic, Oregon
Education: University of Washington, LL.B. (1916)
Georgetown University, LL.M. (1926)
Career: Prosecuting Attorney (1922-1923; 1926; 1935-1937)
U.S. Attorney (1937-1940)
U.S. District Court (1946-1958)
Served: Thursday, May 9th, 1940 to Saturday, November 21st, 1942
Also Served: Saturday, December 1st, 1945 to Monday, April 22nd, 1946
Chief Justice: Tuesday, December 18th, 1945 to Monday, April 22nd, 1946
Political Party: Democrat
Appointing Governor: Martin (Democrat)Samuel Driver was born in the small fruit-growing community of Wamic in north-central Oregon near Mount Hood, the son of Frances Marion and Adelia (Lucas) Driver. Samuel attended grade school in Wamic and went to public high school in The Dalles, Oregon. He enrolled at the University of Washington, earned his LL.B. in 1916, and entered law practice shortly thereafter in Seattle. He then joined A. J. Hensel in a law office in Waterville, an eastern Washington farming community. During World War I, Driver served with the Ninety-first Division in France, being discharged in 1919 as a corporal.
Three years after returning to Waterville, voters elected Driver prosecuting attorney for Douglas County, but he resigned after a year to serve as secretary to Congressman Sam B. Hill. While in the nation’s capital, Driver attended Georgetown University Law School and earned his advanced law degree in 1926. That summer he returned to Washington state as deputy prosecutor for Spokane County. Within a few months he moved to Wenatchee to engage in general practice with Jay A. Adams until he was elected prosecuting attorney for Chelan County, serving from 1935 to 1937. In 1937 Driver gained appointment as U. S. Attorney for eastern Washington, with offices in Spokane.
In 1940 Governor Clarence Martin selected Driver to fill the supreme court vacancy left by fellow Spokanite, James Geraghty. He was elected without opposition for the balance of Geraghty’s term in 1940. Although his official tenure in office extended over six years, Driver served only three because of leaves during the Second World War, when he entered the U. S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Department as a major. Overseas for one year, he was discharged in 1946 as a colonel. After returning to the supreme court for a few months, President Harry Truman appointed Driver federal district court judge for eastern Washington.
His output on the state bench totaled only ninety-six opinions, including one concurring and two dissents. Of these opinions Justice Matt Hill wrote:
[W]e find lucidity and a clarity of thought and an ability to get quickly to what one of our law professors… was wont to call “the meat in the coconut.” There is evident throughout all his legal writing a firm grounding in the common law; a thorough researching of any new or novel proposition; an appreciation that the law cannot be static, but must adapt itself to changing customs and conditions; and a deep concern for human rights.
Justice Driver’s most cited – and longest – opinion started as a dissent in Texas Company v. Cohn in 1941. He convincingly argued for the constitutionality of an excise tax upon the distributors of fuel oil, ultimately carrying his colleagues with him.
Judge Driver was relatively liberal and activist in his decisions. He supported some governmental regulation of business, closely scrutinized legislation under constitutional attack, and generally did not hesitate to ignore precedent if necessary to achieve “correct” results.
While on the federal bench, the chief justice appointed Driver to serve on the U. S. Supreme Court’s advisory committee reviewing federal rules of criminal procedure. During his time on the committee, 1947-1956, he continued to urge procedural revision and reform on both the federal and state benches. He served with distinction on the federal bench until his death; he was fatally injured while crossing a highway in California to inspect a field of grain.
Until his appointment to the state supreme court, Driver had been fairly active in Democratic politics. He continued his interest in the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Athletic Roundtable, Phi Delta Phi legal fraternity, and the Early Birds. In 1922 he married Sue Glascock of Bridgeport, Washington. They were the parents of Janeil and Garth Edward.
An oral history interview with Sue Driver, the justice’s wife, is available in the supreme court collection, Washington State Archives. Also see the John Ripple interview, same collection; Samuel Driver papers, Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections, Washington State University Library; Wenatchee Daily Sun, 31 Jan. 1935; and memorial services, Washington Reports, vol. 53, 2d (1959), pp. xvii-xxiii.
The preceding biography is from Charles Sheldon's The Washington High Bench: A Biographical History of the State Supreme Court, 1889-1991, © 1992 by the Board of Regents of Washington State University. Reprinted here with permission and licensed to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License by The Temple of Justice Project.