When Justice Charles Evans Whittaker retired in March 1962 after just over five years on the Supreme Court—he had suffered a nervous breakdown and was famously paralyzed with indecision—John F. Kennedy had his first opportunity to shape the high court. The youthful president selected a man of his own generation, Byron White. White had met JFK in England while on a Rhodes Scholarship—after having been runner-up for the Heisman Trophy and spending a year as the highest-paid player in the NFL—and the two became fast friends.
White was a vigorous 45 and serving as the deputy attorney general under Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy formally nominated him on April 3, 1962. Eight days later, White had his confirmation hearing, a quick 90 minutes including introductions and supporting testimony from various bar-association officials (during which the nominee doodled on his notepad). What questioning there was largely concerned the nominee’s storied football career. The Judiciary Committee unanimously approved him, and later that day so did the Senate as a whole, on a voice vote. My, how times have changed.