| Harlan Stone
|October 11, 1872
|April 22, 1946 (Age 73)
|Amherst College, Columbia Law School
|Sullivan & Cromwell
Sullivan & Cromwell partner, then Supreme Court judge
Harlan Fiske Stone was an American lawyer and jurist. He was a partner with the deep state law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, before he served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1925 to 1941 and then as the Chief Justice of the United States from 1941 until his death in 1946.
He was also the U.S. Attorney General from 1924 to 1925 under President Calvin Coolidge, with whom he had attended Amherst College as a young man. His most famous dictum was: "Courts are not the only agency of government that must be assumed to have capacity to govern."
Born in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, Stone practiced law in New York City after graduating from Columbia Law School. He became the dean of Columbia Law School and a partner with Sullivan & Cromwell. During World War I, he served on the War Department Board of Inquiry, which evaluated the sincerity of conscientious objectors. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Stone as the Attorney General. Stone sought to reform the Department of Justice in the aftermath of several scandals that occurred during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. He also pursued several antitrust cases against large corporations.
In 1925, Coolidge nominated Stone to the Supreme Court to succeed retiring Associate Justice Joseph McKenna, and Stone won Senate confirmation with little opposition. On the Taft Court, Stone joined with Justices Holmes and Brandeis in calling for judicial restraint and deference to the legislative will. On the Hughes Court, Stone and Justices Brandeis and Cardozo formed a liberal bloc called the Three Musketeers that generally voted to uphold the constitutionality of the New Deal. His majority opinions in United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941) and United States v. Carolene Products Co. (1938) were influential in shaping standards of judicial scrutiny.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated Stone to succeed the retiring Charles Evans Hughes as Chief Justice, and the Senate quickly confirmed Stone. The Stone Court presided over several cases during World War II, and Stone's majority opinion in Ex parte Quirin upheld the jurisdiction of a United States military tribunal over the trial of eight German saboteurs. His majority opinion in International Shoe Co. v. Washington (1945) was influential with regards to personal jurisdiction. Stone was the Chief Justice in Korematsu v. United States (1944), ruling the exclusion of Japanese Americans into internment camps as constitutional. Stone served as Chief Justice until his death in 1946. He had one of the shortest terms of any Chief Justice, and was the first Chief Justice not to have served in elected office.
On April 1, 1924, he was appointed United States Attorney General by his Amherst classmate President Calvin Coolidge, who felt Stone would be perceived by the public as beyond reproach to oversee investigations into various scandals arising under the Harding administration. These scandals had besmirched Harding's Attorney General, Harry M. Daugherty, and forced his resignation. In one of his first acts as Attorney General, Stone fired Daugherty's cronies in the Department of Justice and replaced them with men of integrity. As Attorney General, he was responsible for the appointment of J. Edgar Hoover as head of the Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigation, which later became the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and directed him to remodel the agency so it would resemble Britain's Scotland Yard and become far more efficient than any other police organization in the country. A pro‑active Attorney General, Stone argued many of his department's cases in the federal courts and launched an anti‑trust investigation of the Aluminum Company of America, controlled by the family of fellow cabinet member Andrew Mellon, Coolidge's Secretary of the Treasury.
In the 1924 presidential election, Stone campaigned for Coolidge's re‑election. He especially opposed the Progressive Party's candidate, Robert M. La Follette, who had proposed that Congress be empowered to reenact any law that the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional. Stone found this idea threatening to the integrity of the judiciary as well as the separation of powers.
Shortly after the election, Justice Joseph McKenna resigned from the Supreme Court, and on January 5, 1925, Coolidge nominated Stone to replace McKenna as an Associate Justice. His nomination was greeted with general approval, although there were rumors that Stone might have been kicked upstairs because of his antitrust activities. Some Senators raised questions about Stone's connection to Wall Street making him a tool of corporate interests. To quiet those fears, Stone proposed that he answer questions of the Senate Judiciary Committee in person. Stone was confirmed by the Senate on February 5 by a vote of 71—6 and received his commission the same day. On March 2, Stone took the oath as Associate Justice administered by Chief Justice William Howard Taft. He would prove to be Coolidge's only Supreme Court appointment.
The Supreme Court of the mid‑1920s was primarily concerned with the relationships of business and government. A majority of the justices led by Taft were staunch defenders of business and capitalism free from most government regulation. The Court utilized the doctrines of substantive due process and the fundamental right of "liberty of contract" to oversee attempts at regulation by the national and state governments. Critics of the Court charged that the judiciary had usurped legislative authority and had embodied a particular economic theory, laissez faire, into its decisions. Despite the fears of progressives, Stone quickly joined the Court's "liberal faction,"frequently dissenting with Justices Holmes and Brandeis and later, Cardozo when he took Holmes' seat, from the majority's narrow view of the police powers of the state. The "liberal" justices called for judicial restraint, or deference to the legislative will.
During the 1932 to 1937 Supreme Court terms, Stone and his colleagues Justices Brandeis and Cardozo were considered the Three Musketeers of the Supreme Court, its liberal faction. The three were highly supportive of President Roosevelt's New Deal agenda, which many other Supreme Court Justices opposed. For example, he wrote for the court in United States v. Darby Lumber Co., 312 U.S. 100 (1941), which upheld challenged provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Stone also authored the Court's opinion in United States v. Carolene Products Co., which, in its famous "Footnote 4," provided a roadmap for judicial review in the post-Lochner v. New York era.
Stone's support of the New Deal brought him Roosevelt's favor, and on June 12, 1941, President Roosevelt nominated Stone to become Chief Justice, a position vacated by Charles Evans Hughes. Stone was Hughes’ personal choice for a successor. Stone was confirmed by the Senate on June 27 and received his commission on July 3. He remained in this position for the rest of his life.
As Chief Justice, Stone spoke for the Court in upholding the President's power to try Nazi saboteurs captured on American soil by military tribunals in Ex parte Quirin,. The court's handling of this case has been the subject of scrutiny and controversy.
As Chief Justice, Stone described the Nuremberg court as "a fraud" on Germans, even though his colleague and successor as Associate Justice, Robert H. Jackson, served as the chief U.S. prosecutor.
Stone was the fourth Chief Justice to have previously served as an Associate Justice and the second to have served in both positions consecutively. To date, Justice Stone is the only justice to have occupied all nine seniority positions on the bench, having moved from most junior Associate Justice to most senior Associate Justice and then to Chief Justice.
Stone was suddenly stricken while in an open session of the Supreme Court. He had just (or by some accounts not quite) finished reading aloud his dissent in Girouard v. United States. Justice Hugo Black called the Court into a brief recess, and physicians were called. Stone died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 22, 1946, at his Washington D.C. home. Stone is buried at Rock Creek Cemetery in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C. His grave is near those of other justices, including Justice Willis Van Devanter, Justice John Marshall Harlan, and Justice Stephen Johnson Field.
- United States v. Darby, 312 U. S. 100 (1941)
- Ex Parte Quirin, 317 U. S. 1 (1942)
- Brief of Legal Scholars and Historians as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioner, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, v. Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, et al., No. 05-184
- International Shoe v. State of Washington, 326 U. S. 310 (1945)
- Mason, Alpheus T., Harlan Fiske Stone: Pillar of the Law, NY: Viking, 1956, p. 716
- See Murphy, The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas, p. 243 (New York: Random House, 2003)
- Death claims Harlan Stone, Chief Justice
- Christensen, George A., "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited," Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17–41 (19 Feb 2008), University of Alabama