Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge

Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge joined the U.S. Supreme Court on February 15, 1943, replacing Justice James Byrnes. Rutledge was born on July 20, 1894 in northwestern Kentucky, although his family lived in several states when Rutledge was young. He attended Maryville College in Tennessee, but he eventually left to attend the University of Wisconsin. Although he graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1914, Rutledge chose to pursue a legal career instead. He attended the Indiana University Law School part-time, but a bout of tuberculosis put his plans on hold. Rutledge ultimately enrolled at the University of Colorado Law School in 1920 and graduated two years later.

From 1924 to 1939, Rutledge taught law at the University of Colorado, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa. He served as dean of the Washington University and Iowa law schools in the 1930s. In March 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt nominated Rutledge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Senate confirmed him in the following month. Rutledge spent nearly four years on the D.C. Circuit.

On January 11, 1943, Roosevelt nominated Rutledge to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on February 8, and he took the judicial oath a week later. Rutledge became a member of the liberal faction on the Court, joining Justices Hugo Black, Willliam Douglas, and Frank Murphy. He wrote nearly as many dissents as majority opinions during his six-year tenure. However, the Earl Warren Court would endorse some of his dissenting views after his death.

Rutledge proved highly sympathetic to criminal defendants and in general to individuals bringing claims against the government. He believed in a robust interpretation of constitutional rights, such as due process, equal protection, and free speech. However, his record of supporting civil liberties contained one major blemish. Rutledge voted with the majority in the 1944 decision of Korematsu v. U.S., upholding the constitutionality of Japanese-American internment camps during the Second World War.

His contributions to the Court and American law might have been more profound had his tenure not been abruptly cut short. During the 1949 recess of the Supreme Court, Rutledge suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. He died on September 10, 1949 in York, Maine at just 55 years old. Rutledge was replaced by Sherman Minton, a much more conservative jurist. His death thus contributed to a brief period of conservative dominance on the Court during the early 1950s.

Selected Opinions by Justice Rutledge:

NLRB v. Hearst Publications, Inc. (1944)

Topic: Government Agencies

When a question involves the specific application of a broad statutory term in a proceeding in which the agency administering the statute must determine it initially, the agency determination must be accepted if it has warrant in the record and a reasonable basis in law.

Prince v. Massachusetts (1944)

Topic: Health Care

The government may restrict parental authority in the interests of child health and welfare.