Whittaker, Charles (1901–1973)

Author:Michael E. Parrish

Page 2902

A considerable number of Justices who served on the United States Supreme Court resembled T. S. Eliot's famous Mr. Prufrock: "an attendant lord, one that will do [to swell a progress, start a scene or two.?] Deferential, glad to be of use, [Politic, cautious, and meticulous;] Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse.?" Charles Whittaker, a self-made man from Kansas, appointed to the Court by President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, was one of these.

Whittaker joined the WARREN COURT in 1957, after earlier service on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. His tenure was distinguished only by its brevity and by his own inability to develop a coherent judicial philosophy apart from the orthodox political and social conservatism of the Republican Middle West. His retirement and that of Justice FELIX FRANKFURTER in 1962 marked the beginning of the Warren Court's most liberal and activist phase.

Several DEPORTATION and coerced confession cases best exemplified Whittaker's ad hoc approach to constitutional issues and the confusion that often plagued his opinions. Writing for a majority of six Justices in Bonetti v. Roger (1958), he overturned the federal government's attempt to deport an ALIEN who had entered the country in 1923, joined the Communist party for a brief period during the 1930s, left the country to fight in the Spanish Civil War, and finally returned to the United States without rejoining the party. Earlier, Whittaker had voted to sustain the deportation of another alien who had resided continuously in the United States for forty years and whose only offense did not constitute a crime when he committed it (Lehmann v. Carson). Two years after Bonetti, he voted to uphold the termination of Social Security benefits to aliens deported for their membership in the Communist party during the Great Depression in Fleming v. Nestor (1960).

Whittaker displayed little more consistency in the coerced confession cases. In Moore v. Michigan (1957), he voted to reverse the murder conviction of a black teenager with a seventh-grade education and a history of head injuries, who had confessed to the crime without the benefit of a lawyer. During the next term, however, he voted, in Thomas v. Arizona (1958), to sustain the murder conviction of a black man in Arizona, who had confessed after a twenty-hour interrogation which included the placing of a rope around his neck by a member of the sheriff's posse.

Sometimes, Whittaker joined the...

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