Justice Charles Whittaker

On this date in 1901, Justice Charles Whittaker was born near Troy, Kansas.  Growing up on a farm near Troy, Whittaker attended a one room school and dropped out in the 9th grade to to sell skunk pelts.  By 1920, Whittaker had saved up enough to move to Kansas City to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer.  Whittaker worked as a office assistant at a local law office which provided him the connections needed to be admitted to the Kansas City School of Law even though he still hadn’t finished his high school courses.  Whittaker graduated law school in 1924 and entered practice in Kansas City where he represented corporations, including The Kansas City Star and it’s publisher Roy Roberts, who had strong Republican ties.  After 30 years in practice including a stint as President of the Missouri State Bar Association in 1953, Charles Whittaker was appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower as a district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on July 8, 1954.  Whittaker would hold this position for less than two years before President Eisenhower nominated Whittaker as a Judge on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 5, 1956.  After only eight months on the Eighth Circuit, President Dwight Eisenhower nominated Charles Whittaker to the position of Associate Justice on the United State Supreme Court on March 2, 1957 for the seat left vacant with the retirement of Justice Stanley Reed.  While on the Court, Whittaker generally fell on the conservative end of the judicial spectrum and voted frequently with Justice Felix Frankfurter who championed the concept of “Judicial Restraint”, with the noted exceptions in the areas of labor relations and criminal law.  On April 1, 1962, after only five years on the Court, Justice Whittaker retired from the U.S. Supreme Court citing physical exhaustion, although many would later learn that Whittaker suffered a mental breakdown and had a history of suffering from depression.  After retirement, Whittaker would resign his “commission” (i.e. pension) and went back into private practice where he most notably represented General Motors.  On November 26, 1973, Justice Charles Whittaker died at age 72 in Kansas City, Missouri after suffering from a ruptured blood vessel in his abdomen.  Justice Whittaker time on the Court has mostly went down in history as a failure–a biography written about his tenure was even titled “Failing Justice”.  However, regardless of how Whittaker is viewed by historians, Whittaker holds the undisputed title as being the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice from either Kansas or Missouri.