Justice Wiley B. Rutledge

On this date in 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt nominated Wiley B. Rutledge to serve as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court.  Rutledge was born in Cloverport, Kentucky on July 20, 1894.  After graduating with an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rutledge moved to Indiana and taught high school while attending law school.  Rutledge later moved to Colorado and graduated from the University of Colorado School of Law at Boulder in 1917.  After being in private practice in Boulder, Rutledge returned to teach law at the University of Colorado (1924-26) and later Washington University in St. Louis (1926-35) where he would also serve as Dean from 1930 to 1935.  In 1935, Rutledge became Dean of the University of Iowa School of Law.  Rutledge became a vocal legal advocate of President Roosevelt’s legislative agenda, including his controversial plan to pack the U.S. Supreme Court.  In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt nominated Rutledge to be a Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  After the resignation of Justice James Byrnes, President Roosevelt nominated Rutledge for his seat on the United States Supreme Court.  On the Court, Justice Rutledge became known as a solid vote on the “liberal axis” of the Court (who in that era supported federal government intervention in the economy and was less willing to promote that Court’s should use “judicial restraint” in cases involving decisions made by other branches of government).  Justice Rutledge wrote decisions strongly supporting the First Amendment right to the freedom of speech in cases concerning state licensing requirements.  However, in Everson v. Bd. of Education, Rutledge did uphold a Massachusett’s law regulating child labor against freedom of speech arguments brought by Jehovah Witnesses.  On August 27, 1949, Justice Rutledge was vacationing in Maine and had a stroke while driving which many attributed to work related stress.  On September 10, 1949, after only six and half years on the Court, Justice Rutledge died while in office at the age of 55. One leading scholar maintained that Rutledge was the “conscience of the Court” during his tenure.  Two months prior to his death, a former student wrote Justice Rutledge and compared him to Abraham Lincoln and said that, like Lincoln, Rutledge had qualities of simplicity, sincereity and a deep concern for his fellow man.