Stanley Forman Reed, a descendant of Kentucky gentry, was educated at Kentucky Wesleyan College, Yale, Columbia, the University of Virginia, and the Sorbonne. He then returned to Maysville, Kentucky, where he entered private law practice and Democratic party politics. After serving two terms in the Kentucky General Assembly, he was called to Washington as counsel to the Federal Farm Board during HERBERT C. HOOVER'S administration. His competence as a legal technician led to his promotion to general counsel to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) and his retention at that post when FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT came to power. During the early years of the NEW DEAL, Reed played an important role in the attempts at economic revival through the RFC and in the framing of new legislation by the Brain Trust. He defended New Deal measures before an unreconstructed Supreme Court, first as special counsel arguing the GOLD CLAUSE CASES and then as solicitor general from 1935 to 1938. Reed was Roosevelt's second appointee to the Supreme Court, taking office January 15, 1938, and replacing Justice GEORGE H. SUTHERLAND.
Reed was a moderate man in both personal style and constitutional views. He occupied a position of influence between the Court's liberal and conservative wings, between activists and advocates of judicial self-restraint. He was most comfortable with the majority and was willing to modify his views as the Court majority shifted. In a Court marked by strong personalities, Reed was able to maintain cordial relations with colleagues of different ideological persuasions.
Reed's opinions are not noted for ringing phrases or rigid insistence on principled positions. The discussion places great weight on the specifics of factual circumstances and often takes on a dialectic quality, a paragraph-by-paragraph dialogue between the Justice and a holder of divergent views whom Reed is trying to accommodate and coopt. The other voice may be internal; perhaps, if it is not that of the Justice himself it may belong to a defeated law clerk, echoing the heated in-chambers arguments Reed relished.
A central theme that runs through Reed's views on many constitutional issues is his willingness to uphold the exercise of governmental power by both the federal government and the states. He had faith in the good intentions of government officials, and was rarely willing to infer impermissible motives behind their actions. These...