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Porter, Claude Rodman
(June 8, 1872–August 17, 1946)

–attorney—was born in Moulton, Iowa, the son of George D. Porter, an Iowa attorney, and Hannah (Rodman) Porter. He attended Centerville public schools, then Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa. Upon graduation, he attended law school in St. Louis and was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1893. Porter began his law practice at home in Centerville, where he worked until 1918. He then began a period of government service. During the Spanish-American War, he enlisted as a private and advanced through the ranks to sergeant major in the 50th Iowa Infantry Volunteers by the end of the war.

    Porter was a prominent leader of the Democratic Party in Iowa. He served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1896 to 1900 and in the Iowa Senate from 1900 to 1904. He was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Secretary of State in 1898; for governor in 1906, 1910, and 1918; and for U.S. senator in 1908, 1909, 1911, 1920, and 1926. He was also a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1908, 1912, and 1924.

    From 1914 to 1918 Porter was the U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. During that time, U.S. Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory asked him to aid in the prosecution of members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Chicago, including William "Big Bill" Haywood. Porter worked to secure convictions of 99 members of the IWW, charging them with such things as obstructing the draft, violating postal law, printing and distributing traitorous literature, sabotage, and interfering with war industries. Porter displayed such extraordinary ability at trial that President Woodrow Wilson appointed him assistant attorney general of the United States in 1918. In that capacity, he was directly in charge of all criminal business matters in 1918 and 1919. In July 1919 he was appointed chief counsel for the Federal Trade Commission, where he served until October 1, 1920.

    From 1924 to 1928 Porter practiced law in Des Moines. In 1926 he tried an important case, Byars v. United States, before the U.S. Supreme Court. Porter was head counsel for the petitioner, arguing that certain evidence against his client had been obtained in an unlawful search. On January 3, 1927, the Court ruled in favor of Porter's client, stating that the search was "prosecuted in violation of the Constitution," specifically the Fourth Amendment, and was not made lawful by what the search brought to light.

    Porter married Maude Boutin of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 1899. They had five children: George, Julia, Dorothy, Mary, and Norma Louise. He was an active member of the Presbyterian church and served on his local board of education from 1925 to 1928. Along with all of his other activities and service, Porter was a member of the national and state bar associations, the Prairie Club of Des Moines, the Cosmos Club of Washington, D.C., and the Masonic order. He died from a cerebral hemorrhage in Washington, D.C., at age 74.
Sources include an obituary in the New York Times, 8/18/1946; The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. 45 (1962); and Who's Who in America, vol. 2 (1974).
Contributor: Wendy Carson