Date of Death: August 12, 2003
Edward S. Northrop, 92, a former chief judge on the federal bench in Baltimore whose four decades of rulings included sentencing priest Philip F. Berrigan to prison for his anti-Vietnam War activities, died August 12 at Brook Grove Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Sandy Spring of complications of an abdominal tumor.
Judge Northrop, a Baltimore resident, had long been part of the region’s civic dialogue–as Chevy Chase village manager in his 20s, a Montgomery County Democrat and majority leader of the Maryland State Senate and a founder of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in 1957.
President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. District Court for Maryland in 1961, and he became chief judge in the 1970s. He assumed senior status in 1981 and continued hearing cases through the late 1990s.
His cases touched on some of the most incendiary matters of the day: racial discrimination and war protests.
In 1968, he sentenced Berrigan to six years in federal prison for pouring blood on Selective Service files in a parking lot in Catonsville, MD.
“You have transcended the tolerable limits of civil disobedience,” the judge told the Catholic priest upon sentencing. “You deliberately set out to use violent means to destroy the very fabric of our society.”
Another memorable case came in 1983, when Judge Northrop held the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives in contempt of court and imposed a $500-a-day fine for his refusal to turn over subpoenaed House documents. The Washington Post reported that the episode marked the first time a high congressional official was ever held in contempt by the judiciary.
The documents were sought by an insurance agent who sued ABC-TV and employees of a House committee.
When the House passed a resolution ordering the clerk not to comply, Judge Northrop likened his decision to the U.S. Supreme Court forcing President Richard M. Nixon to hand over Watergate tapes.
Later, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, overturned Judge Northrop’s decision. The panel did not rule on the constitutional merits, but instead said the judge lacked jurisdiction to issue a subpoena from Maryland against the House clerk, whose office is in the District of Columbia.
Over the years, Judge Northrop also handled cases involving extortion and bearer bonds stolen by organized crime fighters.
Edward Skottowe Northrop, who came from a family of lawyers, was born in Chevy Chase. He was a graduate of the Woodberry Forest School near Orange, VA, and George Washington University, where he also was a 1937 graduate of its law school.
He went to law school at night while working as Chevy Chase superintendent of public works, eventually becoming village manager and town attorney.
While in the Navy during World War II, he headed the Naval section of the Joint Intelligence Collection Agency. He worked mostly from Washington but spent time in other theaters of operation and left at the rank of commander.
After the war, he became a partner in the Washington law firm Lambert, Hart and Northrop. His partners were Arthur G. Lambert, a founder and chairman of Suburban Hospital, and George L. Hart Jr., who became chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
His interests in statewide politics began in 1946, when he made an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate. He also lost a race for the state House of Delegates in 1950.
In 1954, he won his state Senate seat and was appointed majority leader a year after winning re-election in 1958. He also was chairman of the Senate finance committee.
His wife, Barbara Burdette Northrop, whom he married in 1939, died in 1989.
Survivors include two sons, Edward M. Northrop, of Baltimore and Peter B. Northrop, of Olney; a daughter. St. Julien Northrop Butler, of South Bend, Ind., six grandchildren; and two great-grand children.