Judge Robert L. Taylor was appointed to be a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee by President Harry S Truman. He was confirmed by the Senate on March 8, 1950, and received his commission the next day. Taylor was born in Embreeville, Tennessee, near Jonesborough, on December 20, 1899, the son of Tennessee governor Alfred A. Taylor and nephew of Tennessee governor Robert Love Taylor, his namesake. His father and his uncle were political rivals in Tennessee, and once faced each other in a race for governor, a battle called “The War of the Roses.” The younger Robert Taylor also played semi-pro baseball and was a lawyer practicing in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Judge Taylor also got involved in cold war espionage, at least as a jurist. He heard the case of Alfred Dean Slack, who was charged with providing samples of RDX explosive to Harry Gold, a Soviet spy and the handler of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for spying for the Soviet Union. Slack had been working at Eastman in the 30’s and 40’s and had made the acquaintance of Gold, and reportedly had passed the explosive samples to him in Kingsport, Tennessee.
On September 22, 1950, Slack was sentenced by Judge Taylor to 15 years in prison for his actions, the judge stating:
It is ironical… from the standpoint of this defendant that he committed his crime at a time when the United States and Soviet Russia were allies, but stands before the bar of justice to receive his punishment at a time when the United States and Soviet Russia are stirred by mutual distrust, torn by the clash of opposing ideologies and face each other across the world under the threat of devastating war. The human mind changes with the winds of passion. It is a quality of justice that it does not permit itself to be swayed unduly by the shifting tides.
Judge Robert Taylor died in 1987.