Justice Tom C. Clark

Justice Tom C. Clark joined the U.S. Supreme Court on August 24, 1949, replacing Justice Frank Murphy. Clark was born on September 23, 1899 in Dallas, Texas. He attended the Virginia Military Institute in 1917-1918 and then briefly served in the Texas National Guard toward the end of the First World War. Clark graduated from the University of Texas in 1921. He stayed at Texas for law school and received his degree a year later.

Clark then entered private practice before serving as a civil district attorney in Dallas from 1927 to 1932. After leaving that post, he returned to private practice for five years. In 1937, Clark became a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, working first in war risk litigation and then in the antitrust division. He became an Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice in 1943. Shortly after taking office upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, President Harry Truman appointed Clark as U.S. Attorney General. He would spend the next four years in that position.

On August 2, 1949, Truman nominated Clark to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on August 18 in a 73-8 vote, and he took the judicial oath about a week later. Although he spent his first few years working with Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, Clark’s tenure on the Court largely overlapped with the Earl Warren era.

Clark bolstered the constitutional rights of criminal defendants with one of his most memorable opinions. In Mapp v. Ohio, he wrote for the Court in extending the exclusionary rule to state courts. This doctrine generally prevents the prosecution from using evidence that law enforcement seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. However, Clark felt that the Court went too far when it created the Miranda warnings under the Fifth Amendment.

Clark also penned a pair of decisions that upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against constitutional challenges. These echoed his support for racial integration in schools during the 1950s. Meanwhile, his majority opinion in Abington School District v. Schempp affirmed the separation of church and state under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. This decision struck down school-sponsored Bible readings and recitations of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools.

Clark retired from the Supreme Court on June 12, 1967 and was replaced by Justice Thurgood Marshall. During his retirement, he spearheaded an American Bar Association Special Committee that reviewed lawyer discipline and spurred major reforms in legal ethics. Clark died on June 13, 1977 in New York City and was buried in Dallas.

Selected Opinions by Justice Clark:

Graham v. John Deere Co. (1966)

Topic: Patents

The determination of non-obviousness is made after establishing the scope and content of prior art, the differences between the prior art and the claims at issue, and the level of ordinary skill in the pertinent art.

Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. U.S. (1964)

Topic: Powers of Congress

Prohibiting racial discrimination in places of public accommodation affecting commerce is a valid exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause as applied to a place of public accommodation serving interstate travelers.

Katzenbach v. McClung (1964)

Topic: Powers of Congress

The power of Congress in the field of interstate commerce is broad and sweeping. When it keeps within its sphere and violates no express constitutional limitation, it has been the rule of the Supreme Court not to interfere.

Abington School District v. Schempp (1963)

Topic: Religion

No state law or school board may require that passages from the Bible be read or that the Lord's Prayer be recited in public schools, even if students may be excused from attending or participating upon written request of their parents.

American Automobile Ass'n v. U.S. (1961)

Topic: Taxes

When an accounting method presents an accurate image of the total financial structure but fails to respect the criteria of annual tax accounting, it may be rejected by the Commissioner even if it was in accordance with generally accepted commercial accounting principles and practices.

Mapp v. Ohio (1961)

Topic: Search & Seizure

All evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the federal Constitution is inadmissible in a criminal trial in a state court.

Commissioner v. Lester (1961)

Topic: Taxes

Periodic payments received by a wife after a divorce decree in discharge of a legal obligation imposed on the husband under a written instrument incident to the divorce are included in the gross income of the wife. However, this rule does not apply to a part of any such periodic payment that the terms of the written instrument fix, in terms of a portion of the payment, as a sum payable for the support of minor children of the husband. To fit within this exception, the written agreement providing for periodic payments to the wife must specifically designate the amounts or parts thereof allocable to the support of the children.

International Boxing Club v. U.S. (1959)

Topic: Antitrust

Championship boxing is the “cream” of the boxing business and is a sufficiently separate part of the trade or commerce to constitute the relevant market for Sherman Act purposes.

Cooper v. Aaron (1958)

Topic: Role of Courts; Equal Protection

State officials have a duty to obey federal court orders resting on the Supreme Court's considered interpretation of the Constitution. Also, state support of segregated schools through any arrangement, management, funds, or property cannot be squared with the Equal Protection Clause.

Corn Products Refining Co. v. Commissioner (1955)

Topic: Taxes

Congress intended that profits and losses arising from the everyday operation of a business should be considered as ordinary income or loss, rather than capital gain or loss.

Shaughnessy v. U.S. ex rel. Mezei (1953)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

Whatever the procedure authorized by Congress is, it is due process as far as a foreign national denied entry is concerned when they are on the threshold of initial entry.

Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952)

Topic: Free Speech

Expression by means of motion pictures is included within the free speech and free press guaranty of the First Amendment. A state may not place a prior restraint on the showing of a motion picture on the basis of a censor's conclusion that it is sacrilegious.