Rutledge, Wiley B. (1894–1949)

Author:Michael E. Parrish

Page 2302

When Wiley B. Rutledge joined the Supreme Court in January 1943, succeeding JAMES F. BYRNES, he helped to forge a liberal coalition that substantially redirected constitutional developments for the next six years. His sudden death in the summer of 1949, two months after the passing of Justice FRANK MURPHY, ended a brief era of liberal activism and ushered in the bleakest period for CIVIL LIBERTIES in the Court's history. President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT'S eighth and last appointment to the high bench, Rutledge remained, with the exception of Murphy, the most consistently liberal member of the STONE and VINSON COURTS.

When dean of the law school of the University of Iowa, Rutledge's support for FDR's NEW DEAL, including the "court-packing" proposal, earned him an appointment to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1939. There he consistently endorsed the social and economic reforms of the Roosevelt administration and also compiled a strong record on civil liberties. In one opinion Rutledge dissented on FIRST AMENDMENT grounds when the judges upheld a local license tax levied against itinerant religious preachers.

A year later, as the newest member of the Stone Court, Rutledge provided the fifth and crucial vote in a coalition including HUGO L. BLACK, WILLIAM O. DOUGLAS, Murphy, and Chief Justice HARLAN FISKE STONE that overturned the Supreme Court's own ruling in a similar case decided six months earlier (Jones v. Opelika, 1943; MURDOCK V. PENNSYLVANIA, 1943). He also joined Justice ROBERT H. JACKSON'S opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). (See FLAG SALUTE CASES.)

Rutledge's jurisprudence blended economic nationalism with compassion for the economically disadvantaged and extreme sensitivity to individual rights. He endorsed, for example, interpretation of the WAGNER ACT to cover local newspaper carriers and believed that the minimum wage provisions of the FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT benefited all employees "throughout the farthest reaches of the channels of INTERSTATE COMMERCE."

To protect workers from exploitation, Rutledge believed, the federal government could prohibit entirely homework in the embroidery industry. To protect consumers from abuses, the federal government could prosecute insurance companies under the SHERMAN ANTITRUST ACT, despite more than a half century of precedent to the contrary. (See UNITED STATES V. SOUTH-EASTERN UNDERWRITERS...

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