Wiley Rutledge

Wiley Blount Rutledge Jr. (July 20, 1894 – September 10, 1949) was an American jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1943 to 1949. The ninth and final justice appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he is best known for his impassioned defenses of civil liberties. Rutledge favored broad interpretations of the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause, and he argued that the Bill of Rights applied in its totality to the states. He participated in several noteworthy cases involving the intersection of individual freedoms and the government's wartime powers. Rutledge served on the Court until his death at the age of fifty-five. Legal scholars have generally thought highly of the justice, although the brevity of his tenure has minimized his impact on history.

Wiley Rutledge
Portrait of Rutledge seated, wearing his judicial robes
Portrait by Harold Mathews Brett, 1947
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
February 15, 1943  September 10, 1949
Nominated byFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byJames F. Byrnes
Succeeded bySherman Minton
Associate Justice of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
In office
May 2, 1939  February 14, 1943
Nominated byFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded bySeat established by 52 Stat. 584
Succeeded byThurman Arnold
Personal details
Wiley Blount Rutledge Jr.

(1894-07-20)July 20, 1894
Cloverport, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedSeptember 10, 1949(1949-09-10) (aged 55)
York, Maine, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic

Born in Cloverport, Kentucky, Rutledge attended several colleges and universities, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1922. He briefly practiced law in Boulder, Colorado, before accepting a position on the faculty of the University of Colorado Law School. Rutledge also taught law at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri, of which he became the dean; he later served as dean of the University of Iowa College of Law. As an academic, he vocally opposed Supreme Court decisions striking down parts of the New Deal and argued in favor of President Roosevelt's unsuccessful attempt to expand the Court. Rutledge's support of Roosevelt's policies brought him to the President's attention: he was considered as a potential Supreme Court nominee and was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where he developed a record as a supporter of individual liberties and the New Deal. When Justice James F. Byrnes resigned from the Supreme Court, Roosevelt nominated Rutledge to take his place. The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Rutledge by voice vote, and he took the oath of office on February 15, 1943.

Rutledge's jurisprudence placed a strong emphasis on the protection of civil liberties. In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), he authored an influential dissenting opinion in support of the separation of church and state. He sided with Jehovah's Witnesses seeking to invoke the First Amendment in cases such as West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) and Murdock v. Pennsylvania (1943); his majority opinion in Thomas v. Collins (1945) endorsed a broad interpretation of the Free Speech Clause. In a famed dissent in the wartime case of In re Yamashita (1946), Rutledge voted to void the war crimes conviction of the Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita, condemning in ringing terms a trial that, in his view, violated the basic principles of justice and fairness enshrined in the Constitution. By contrast, he joined the majority in two casesHirabayashi v. United States (1943) and Korematsu v. United States (1944)that upheld the Roosevelt administration's decision to intern tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II. In other cases, Rutledge fervently supported broad due process rights in criminal cases, and he opposed discrimination against women, racial minorities, and the poor.

Rutledge was among the most liberal justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court. He favored a flexible and pragmatic approach to the law that prioritized the rights of individuals. On the Court, his views aligned most often with those of Justice Frank Murphy. Rutledge died in 1949, having suffered a massive stroke, after six years' service on the Supreme Court. President Harry S. Truman appointed the considerably more conservative Sherman Minton to replace him. Although Rutledge frequently found himself in dissent during his lifetime, many of his views received greater acceptance during the era of the Warren Court.

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