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Harlan Stone

the only Supreme Court justice to have occupied all nine seniority positions on the bench

Harlan Fiske Stone

Harlan Fiske Stone was born to Frederick Lauson and Ann Sophia Butler Stone on a farm in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, on October 11, 1872. After graduating from Amherst (Massachusetts) High School he went on to Amherst College, from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1894, and then taught high school chemistry for a year. He went on to earn his Masters degree from Amherst College in 1897, and his law degree from the Columbia Law School in 1898; he passed the New York bar exam in 1899. The same year he passed the bar, he married Agnes Harvey, with whom he had two sons, Marshall and Lauson.

After passing the bar, Stone was hired by a New York City law firm, and subsequently spent the next twenty-five years dividing his time between his practice and a career as a professor of law at Columbia University. He became Dean of the Law School in 1910, and served in that capacity until 1923, when he became head of the litigation department in the prestigious New York City law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell.

Stone's private law career ended in 1924, when President Calvin Coolidge named him Attorney General of the United States, in which capacity he rid the Justice Department of the corruption that had forced Harry M. Dougherty to resign. It was Stone who appointed J. Edgar Hoover to head what became the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and it was Hoover who in turn made the FBI the nation's pre-eminent police force. During his tenure as Attorney General, Stone also personally 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 Andrew Mellon, who was Coolidge's Secretary of the Treasury.

In 1924, Associate Justice Joseph McKenna resigned from the Supreme Court, and on January 25, 1925 President Coolidge nominated Stone as his replacement. When some Senators raised concerns about Stone's ties to Wall Street (he had focused on corporate law as a private attorney), Stone made the unprecedented offer to answer questions of the Senate Judiciary Committee in person. Stone's answers more than satisfied the Senate, which ultimately confirmed his appointment by a vote of 71 to 6; he was sworn in as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on March 2, 1925. As Associate Justice, Stone often joined Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis in judgments upholding legislation that regulated industry or attempted to improve working conditions. In the 1930's, he, Brandeis, and Benjamin Cardozo supported most of the New Deal legislation that was struck down by the rest of the Court.

On June 12, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt nominated Stone to replace retiring Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. His appointment was confirmed by the Senate on July 27, and he was sworn in on July 3. 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, and wrote the majority opinion upholding the right of the government to deprive Japanese Americans of civil rights during World War II (Hirabayashi v. United States, 1943).

On April 22, 1946, Stone was suddenly taken ill while the Supreme Court was in open session. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage later that same day at his Washington, D. C. home. 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, he is also 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.

New Hampshire
Columbia University
President Calvin Coolidge
Andrew Mellon
President Franklin Roosevelt

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The Robinson Library >> Supreme Court

This page was last updated on December 09, 2018.