Clark, Tom C. (1899–1977)

Author:John Kaplan

Page 420

Tom Campbell Clark, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and ATTORNEY GENERAL of the United States, was born September 23, 1899, in Dallas, Texas. He was educated at the University of Texas at Austin, receiving his B.A. in 1921 and his LL.B. in 1922. Admitted to the Texas Bar in 1922, he joined his family's firm in Dallas.

Clark began his twelve-year career with the Department of Justice in 1937 as a special assistant to the attorney general. He held a number of posts in the department, capped by his 1945 appointment as attorney general by President HARRY S. TRUMAN. With this promotion, Clark became the first person to become attorney general by working himself up from the lower ranks of the department.

Four years later, President Truman appointed Clark Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; he took his oath of office on August 24, 1949. His tenure on the bench spanned eighteen years, and he served on both the VINSON COURT and WARREN COURT. He retired from the Court on June 12, 1967, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interests when his son, Ramsey Clark, was appointed attorney general by President LYNDON B. JOHNSON. Clark, however, continued to sit as a judge in the various courts of appeal, and to be a vigorous and vocal advocate of judicial reform until his death on June 13, 1977.

On the Supreme Court, Clark built a reputation as a pragmatic jurist. Early on, he voted regularly with Chief Justice FRED M. VINSON and the other Truman appointees. In time, however, he began to assert his independence. In YOUNGSTOWN SHEET AND TUBE COMPANY V. SAWYER (1952), the steel seizure case, Clark voted against Vinson and Truman, concurring in the Court's decision holding unconstitutional Truman's order for governmental seizure of the nation's steel mills.

While Clark was generally viewed as politically conservative, he was relatively nonideological, and his views changed throughout his tenure, especially during the years of the Warren Court (1953?1969). He was a nationalist, a liberal on racial matters, and, in general, a conservative on issues of CRIMINAL PROCEDURE and CIVIL LIBERTIES.

Clark's most significant opinions in the area of FEDERALISM are his landmark opinion on STATE REGULATION OF COMMERCE in DEAN MILK COMPANY V. MADISON (1951), and his dissent in Williams v. Georgia (1955), which provided the classic definition of "independent and ADEQUATE STATE GROUNDS " that insulate state court decisions from the...

To continue reading