Harlan Fiske Stone Court (1941-1946)

Harlan Fiske Stone was the 12th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, succeeding Charles Evans Hughes. Having served on the Court since 1925, Stone was the second incumbent Associate Justice (after Edward Douglass White) to be elevated to Chief Justice. He was nominated for Chief Justice by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 12, 1941. The Senate confirmed Stone on June 27, 1941, and he was sworn into office on July 3, 1941. Stone served as Chief Justice until he died on April 22, 1946 and was succeeded by Fred M. Vinson.

Lasting less than five years, the Stone Court saw relatively few changes in membership. Two Associate Justices joined at essentially the same time as Stone became Chief Justice. Justice James Byrnes filled the vacancy left by Justice James Clark McReynolds, who had resigned earlier in 1941. Justice Robert H. Jackson filled the vacancy left by Stone’s elevation to Chief Justice.

Byrnes served the second-shortest tenure of any Associate Justice in the history of the Supreme Court, and the shortest in the 20th century. When he resigned after just 15 months, he was replaced by Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge. Justice Owen Josephus Roberts retired in July 1945 and was replaced that fall by Justice Harold Hitz Burton.

The Stone Court coincided with the later stages of Roosevelt’s uniquely long presidency. In addition to elevating Stone, Roosevelt appointed most of the Associate Justices. (The two exceptions were Justice Roberts, appointed by President Herbert Hoover, and Justice Burton, appointed by President Harry Truman.) Even though they were largely appointed by the same President, the Justices often disagreed fiercely. While Justice Felix Frankfurter led a group that favored restraint, Justices Hugo Black and William Douglas led a group that urged activism. This rift would persist during the Vinson Court.

The Second World War cast a shadow over the Stone Court. Stone was sworn into office just five months before Pearl Harbor and died eight months after the atomic bombs fell on Japan. The Stone Court thus reviewed several key cases involving national security. After victory in Europe, Justice Jackson served as U.S. Chief of Counsel for the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi leaders in 1945-1946. His absence reduced the Court to eight Justices for that term.

Associate Justices on the Stone Court:

  • Owen Josephus Roberts (1930-1945)
  • Hugo Black (1937-1971)
  • Stanley Reed (1938-1957)
  • Felix Frankfurter (1939-1962)
  • William Douglas (1939-1975)
  • Frank Murphy (1940-1949)
  • James Byrnes (1941-1942)
  • Robert H. Jackson (1941-1954)
  • Wiley Blount Rutledge (1943-1949)
  • Harold Hitz Burton (1945-1958)

Selected Landmark Cases of the Stone Court:

U.S. v. Causby (1946)

Author: William O. Douglas

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

Flights of aircraft over private land that are so low and frequent as to be a direct and immediate interference with the enjoyment and use of the land are as much an appropriation of the use of the land as a more conventional entry on it.

Girouard v. U.S. (1946)

Author: William O. Douglas

Topic: Religion; Immigration & National Security

A foreign national who is willing to take the oath of allegiance and to serve in the army as a non-combatant but who, due to religious scruples, is unwilling to bear arms in defense of the U.S. may be admitted to citizenship.

Marsh v. Alabama (1946)

Author: Hugo Black

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

A state cannot impose criminal penalties for distributing religious literature on the sidewalk of a company-owned town contrary to regulations of the town management, when the town and its shopping district are accessible to the general public.

Cramer v. U.S. (1945)

Author: Robert H. Jackson

Topic: Immigration & National Security

When an indictment charges treason by giving aid and comfort to enemies of the U.S., this requires proof of an overt act by the accused that is sufficient in its setting to sustain a finding that they actually gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Simply meeting and talking with the enemy is not enough.

Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. (1945)

Author: Frank Murphy

Topic: Government Agencies

In interpreting an administrative regulation, a court must look to the administrative construction of the regulation if the meaning of the words used is in doubt. The administrative interpretation holds controlling weight unless it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation. (The Court reaffirmed this rule in Auer v. Robbins.)

Special Equipment Co. v. Coe (1945)

Author: Harlan Fiske Stone

Topic: Patents

A subcombination patent may be used to prevent appropriation by others of a combination invention that the claimant is using when there is no purpose to enlarge the patent monopoly of either invention.

International Shoe Co. v. Washington (1945)

Author: Harlan Fiske Stone

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

To subject a defendant to personal jurisdiction when they are not present in the territory of the forum, the defendant must have certain minimum contacts with the forum such that the maintenance of the lawsuit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

J.I. Case Co. v. NLRB (1944)

Author: Robert H. Jackson

Topic: Labor & Employment

The fact that an employer has individual contracts of employment with a majority of its employees does not preclude the employees from exercising their right under the National Labor Relations Act to choose a representative for collective bargaining, nor does it warrant refusal by the employer to bargain with this representative regarding terms covered by the individual contracts.

Prince v. Massachusetts (1944)

Author: Wiley Blount Rutledge

Topic: Health Care

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

Smith v. Allwright (1944)

Author: Stanley Reed

Topic: Voting & Elections

All citizens have a right to participate in the choice of elected officials, without restriction by any state because of race. This grant to the people of the opportunity for choice is not to be nullified by a state through casting its electoral process in a form that permits a private organization to practice racial discrimination in the election.

Skidmore v. Swift & Co. (1944)

Author: Robert H. Jackson

Topic: Labor & Employment; Government Agencies

Rulings, interpretations, and opinions of agency administrators are not controlling on courts but provide a body of experience and informed judgment that courts can use for guidance. The weight of such a judgment depends on the thoroughness evident in its consideration, the validity of its reasoning, its consistency with earlier and later pronouncements, and all those factors that give it power to persuade, if lacking power to control. Also, no principle of law precludes a determination that waiting time is working time under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Korematsu v. U.S. (1944)

Author: Hugo Black

Topic: Equal Protection; Immigration & National Security

All legal restrictions that curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect and must be subjected to the most rigid scrutiny. However, pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions.

Yakus v. U.S. (1944)

Author: Harlan Fiske Stone

Topic: Separation of Powers; Government Agencies

The essentials of the legislative function are preserved when Congress has specified the basic conditions of fact upon whose existence or occurrence, ascertained from relevant data by a designated administrative agency, it directs that its statutory command shall be effective. It is no objection that the determination of facts and the inferences to be drawn from them in the light of the statutory standards and declaration of policy call for the exercise of judgment, and for the formulation of subsidiary administrative policy within the prescribed statutory framework.

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)

Author: Robert H. Jackson

Topic: Religion; Free Speech

The action of a state in making it compulsory for children in public schools to salute the flag and pledge allegiance violates the First Amendment. The issue does not turn on the possession of particular religious views or the sincerity with which they are held. (This decision overturned Gobitis.)

Ex Parte Quirin (1942)

Author: Harlan Fiske Stone

Topic: Immigration & National Security

The Fifth and Sixth Amendments do not abolish trials by military tribunals or impose on these tribunals the necessity of proceeding against unlawful enemy belligerents only on presentment and trial by jury.

Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson (1942)

Author: William O. Douglas

Topic: Equal Protection

Strict scrutiny of the classification that a state makes in a sterilization law is essential, lest invidious discriminations are made against groups or types of individuals in violation of the constitutional guaranty of just and equal laws.

Wickard v. Filburn (1942)

Author: Robert H. Jackson

Topic: Powers of Congress

The fact that a certain party's contribution to the demand for a commodity may be trivial by itself is not enough to remove them from the scope of federal regulation when their contribution, taken together with that of many others similarly situated, is far from trivial.

Betts v. Brady (1942)

Author: Owen Josephus Roberts

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

Under the circumstances, the refusal of a state court to appoint counsel to represent an indigent defendant at a trial in which he was convicted of robbery did not deny him due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (This decision was overruled by Gideon v. Wainwright below.)

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942)

Author: Frank Murphy

Topic: Free Speech

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or fighting words, which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.

Glasser v. U.S. (1942)

Author: Frank Murphy

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The right to have the assistance of counsel is too fundamental to be made to depend upon nice calculations by courts of the degree of prejudice arising from its denial.