The fourth longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history, Black is noted for his advocacy of a literalist reading of the United States Constitution and of the position that the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights were imposed on the states ("incorporated") by the Fourteenth Amendment. His jurisprudence has been the focus of much discussion. Because of his insistence on a strict textual analysis of Constitutional issues, as opposed to the process-oriented jurisprudence of many of his colleagues, it is difficult to characterize Black as a liberal or a conservative as those terms are generally understood in the current political discourse of the United States. On the one hand, his literal reading of the Bill of Rights and his theory of incorporation often translated into support for strengthening civil rights and civil liberties. On the other hand, Black consistently opposed the doctrine of substantive due process (the anti-New Deal Supreme Court cited this concept in such a way as to make it impossible for the government to enact legislation that interfered with the freedom of business owners) and believed that there was no basis in the words of the Constitution for a right to privacy, voting against finding one in Griswold v. Connecticut.
Because his brother Orlando had become a medical doctor, Hugo decided at first to follow in his footsteps. At age seventeen, he left school in Ashland and enrolled in the 1902–03 term at Birmingham Medical School. However, it was Orlando who suggested that Hugo should enroll at the University of Alabama School of Law. After graduating in June 1906, he moved back to Ashland and established a legal practice above a grocery. His legal practice was not a success, and a year and a half after it had opened, the entire building burned to the ground. Black then moved back to Birmingham in 1907 to continue his law practice, and came to specialize in labor law and personal injury cases.
Following his defense of an African American forced into a form of commercial slavery following incarceration, Black was befriended by A. O. Lane, a judge connected with the case. When Lane was elected to the Birmingham City Commission in 1911, he asked Black to serve as a police court judge, an experience that would be his only judicial experience prior to the Supreme Court. In 1912, Black resigned that seat in order to return to practicing law full-time. He was not done with public service; in 1914, he began a four-year term as the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney.
Three years later, during World War I, Black resigned in order to join the United States Army. He enrolled in the Officers Training School at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, eventually reaching the rank of captain. He served in the 81st Field Artillery Unit near Chattanooga, Tennessee, but never participated in armed combat. In September 1918, shortly before the war ended, he returned to his practice in Birmingham. He joined the Birmingham Civitan Club during this time, eventually serving as president of the group. He remained an active member throughout his life, occasionally contributing articles to Civitan publications.
On February 23, 1921, he married Josephine Foster (1899-1951), with whom he would have three children: Hugo L. Black, II (b. 1922), an attorney; Sterling Foster (b. 1924), and Martha Josephine (b. 1933). His grandson, Hugo L. Black, III, would serve in the Florida House of Representatives and be an Assistant U.S. Attorney. The couple remained married until Josephine died after a long illness on December 6, 1951. In 1957, Black married Elizabeth Seay DeMeritte.
Black joined the Ku Klux Klan while still a young man in Alabama, thinking it necessary for his political career. Running for the Senate as the "people's" candidate, Black believed he needed the votes of Klan members, who were usually poor wage earners, economic and political underdogs. Black would near the end of his life admit that joining the Klan was a mistake, but said "I would have joined any group if it helped get me votes."
In 1926, Black sought election to the United States Senate from Alabama, following the retirement of Senator Oscar Underwood. Since the Democratic Party dominated Alabama politics at the time, he easily defeated his Republican opponent, E. H. Dryer, winning 80.9% of the vote. He was reelected in 1932, winning 86.3% of the vote against Republican J. Theodore Johnson.
Senator Black gained a reputation as a tenacious investigator. In 1934, for example, he chaired the committee that looked into the contracts awarded to air mail carriers under Postmaster General Walter Folger Brown, an inquiry which led to the Air Mail Scandal. In order to correct what he termed abuses of "fraud and collusion" resulting from the Air Mail Act of 1930, he introduced the Black-McKellar Bill, later the Air Mail Act of 1934. The following year he participated in a Senate committee's investigation of lobbying practices. He publicly denounced the "highpowered, deceptive, telegram-fixing, letterframing, Washington-visiting" lobbyists, and advocated legislation requiring them to publicly register their names and salaries.
In 1935, Black became chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, a position he would hold for the remainder of his Senate career. In 1937 he sponsored the Black-Connery Bill, which sought to establish a national minimum wage and a maximum workweek of thirty hours. Although the bill was initially rejected in the House of Representatives, a weakened version passed in 1938 (after Black left the Senate), becoming the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Black was an ardent supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. In particular, he was an outspoken advocate of the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, popularly known as the court-packing bill, FDR's unsuccessful plan to stack a hostile Supreme Court in his favor by adding more associate justices.
Black would throughout his career as a senator give speeches based on his belief in the ultimate power of the Constitution. He came to see the actions of the anti-New Deal Supreme Court as judicial excess; in his view, the Court was improperly overturning legislation passed by large majorities of Congress.
On August 12, 1937, Roosevelt nominated Black to fill the vacancy. By tradition, a senator nominated for an executive or judicial office was confirmed immediately and without debate. However, when Black was nominated, the Senate departed from this tradition for the first time since 1853; instead of confirming him immediately, it referred the nomination to the Judiciary Committee. Black was criticized by other senators and Newsweek for his presumed bigotry, his cultural roots, and later when it became public, his Klan membership.
Republican Senator Warren Austin, himself a member of that committee, objected to Black's nomination on constitutional grounds. Article I, Section 6 of the United States Constitution provides that "No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time." In other words, senators and representatives may not resign to take newly created offices or higher-paying political offices; rather, they must wait until the conclusion of their terms. Austin argued that since retirement benefits for Supreme Court Justices over 70 had recently been increased, Black was constitutionally barred from taking the post. Black's defenders responded that he was then 51 and would not receive the increased pension until he turned seventy — long after his senatorial term would have expired. Ultimately, Austin's objections were set aside, and the Judiciary Committee recommended Black's confirmation by a vote of 13–4 on August 16 of that year.
The next day the full Senate considered Black's nomination. Rumors relating to Black's involvement in the Ku Klux Klan surfaced among the senators, and Democratic Senators Royal S. Copeland and Edward R. Burke urged the Senate to defeat the nomination. However, no conclusive evidence of Black's involvement was available at the time, so after six hours of debate, the Senate voted 63-16 to confirm Black - ten Republicans and six Democrats voted against Black. He resigned from the Senate and was sworn in as an Associate Justice two days later; Black would later explain that the haste in resigning was to avoid fallout from his Klan membership potentially going public. Alabama Governor Bibb Graves appointed his wife, Dixie B. Graves, to fill Black's vacated seat.
The next month, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigated Black's KKK past. Ray Sprigle won a Pulitzer Prize for his series of articles revealing Black's involvement in the Klan. Press criticism ranged from publications like Time to The New York Times. However, the controversy soon subsided; the criticism was highly partisan and polls showed that the attacks had little effect on public opinion of Black. Black also addressed public concerns in person: "I did join the Klan. I later resigned. I never rejoined... Before becoming a Senator I dropped the Klan. I have had nothing to do with it since that time. I abandoned it. I completely discontinued any association with the organization. I have never resumed it and never expect to do so.
Black was close friends with Walter White, the black executive secretary of the NAACP who would help assuage critics of the appointment. Black also had a Jewish law clerk and a Catholic secretary. Chambers v. Florida (1940), an early case where Black ruled in favor of African American criminal defendants who experienced due process violations, helped put concerns to rest.
During his early years on the Supreme Court, Black helped reverse several earlier court decisions taking a narrow interpretation of federal power. Many New Deal laws that would have been struck down under earlier precedents were thus upheld. In 1939 Black was joined on the Supreme Court by Felix Frankfurter and William O. Douglas. Douglas voted alongside Black in several cases, especially those involving the First Amendment, while Frankfurter soon became one of Black's ideological foes.
In the mid-1940s, Justice Black became involved in a bitter dispute with Justice Robert H. Jackson as a result of Jewell Ridge Coal Corp. v. Local 6167, United Mine Workers (1945). In this case the Court ruled 5–4 in favor of the UMW; Black voted with the majority, while Jackson dissented. However, the coal company requested the Court rehear the case on the grounds that Justice Black should have recused himself, as the mine workers were represented by Black's law partner of 20 years earlier. Under the Supreme Court's rules, each Justice was entitled to determine the propriety of disqualifying himself.
Jackson agreed that the petition for rehearing should be denied, but refused to give approval to Black's participation in the case. Ultimately, when the Court unanimously denied the petition for rehearing, Justice Jackson released a short statement, in which Justice Frankfurter joined. The concurrence indicated that Jackson voted to deny the petition not because he approved of Black's participation in the case, but on the "limited grounds" that each Justice was entitled to determine for himself the propriety of recusal. At first the case attracted little public comment, however, after Chief Justice Harlan Stone died in 1946, rumors that President Harry S Truman would appoint Jackson as Stone's successor led several newspapers to investigate and report the Jewell Ridge controversy. Black and Douglas allegedly leaked to newspapers that they would resign if Jackson were appointed Chief. Truman ultimately chose Fred M. Vinson for the position.
"Public opinion being what it now is, few will protest the conviction of these Communist petitioners. There is hope, however, that, in calmer times, when present pressures, passions and fears subside, this or some later Court will restore the First Amendment liberties to the high preferred place where they belong in a free society.Beginning in the late 1940s, Black wrote for the Court in several cases relating to the establishment clause, where it had historically insisted on the strict separation of church and state. The most notable of these was Engel v. Vitale (1962), which declared state-sanctioned prayer in public schools unconstitutional. This provoked considerable opposition, especially in the South. Some members of Congress even attempted to restore school prayer by constitutional amendment, efforts which have continued to the present day.
In 1953 Vinson died and was replaced by Earl Warren. Black was often regarded as a member of the liberal wing of the Court, together with Warren, Douglas, William Brennan, and Arthur Goldberg. Yet while he often voted with them on the Warren Court, he occasionally took his own line on some key cases, most notably Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which established that the Constitution protected a right to privacy. In not finding such a right implicit in the Constitution, Black wrote in his dissent that "Many good and able men have eloquently spoken and written... about the duty of this Court to keep the Constitution in tune with the times. ... For myself, I must with all deference reject that philosophy."
Black's most prominent ideological opponent on the Warren Court was John Marshall Harlan II, who replaced Justice Jackson in 1955. Black and Harlan disagreed on several issues, including the applicability of the Bill of Rights to the states, the scope of the due process clause, and the one man, one vote principle. (For more details, see Jurisprudence below.)
Black's jurisprudence is among the most distinctive of any member of the Supreme Court in history and has been influential on justices as diverse as Earl Warren, William Rehnquist, and Antonin Scalia.
Black's jurisprudence had three essential components: history, literalism, and absolutism. Black's love of history was rooted in a lifelong love of books, which led him to the belief that historical study was necessary for one to prevent repeating society's past mistakes. Black wrote in 1968 that "power corrupts, and unrestricted power will tempt Supreme Court justices just as history tells us it has tempted other judges."
Second, Black's commitment to literalism involved using the words of the Constitution to restrict the roles of the judiciary - Black would have justices validate the supremacy of the country's legislature, unless the legislature itself was denying people their freedoms. Black wrote: "The Constitution is not deathless; it provides for changing or repealing by the amending process, not by judges but by the people and their chosen representatives. Black would often lecture his colleagues, liberal or conservative, on the Supreme Court about the importance of acting within the limits of the Constitution.
Third, Black's absolutism led him to enforce the rights of the Constitution, rather than attempting to define a meaning, scope, or extent to each right. Black expressed his view on the Bill of Rights in his opinion in the 1947 case, Adamson v. California, which he saw as his "most significant opinion written:"
"I cannot consider the Bill of Rights to be an outworn 18th century 'strait jacket.' ... Its provisions may be thought outdated abstractions by some. And it is true that they were designed to meet ancient evils. But they are the same kind of human evils that have emerged from century to century wherever excessive power is sought by the few at the expense of the many. In my judgment the people of no nation can lose their liberty so long as a Bill of Rights like ours survives and its basic purposes are conscientiously interpreted, enforced, and respected... I would follow what I believe was the original intention of the Fourteenth Amednment - to extend to all the people the complete protection of the Bill of Rights. To hold that this Court can determine what, if any, provisions of the Bill of Rights will be enforced, and if so to what degree, is to frustrate the great design of a written Constitution.
Thus, Black refused to join in the efforts of the justices on the Court who sought to abolish capital punishment in the United States, whose efforts succeeded (temporarily) in the term immediately following Black's death. He claimed that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment's reference to takings of "life" meant approval of the death penalty was implicit in the Bill of Rights. He also was not persuaded that a right of privacy was implicit in the Ninth or Fourteenth amendments, and dissented from the Court's 1965 Griswold decision which invalidated a conviction for the use of contraceptives. Black said "It belittles that [Fourth] Amendment to talk about it as though it protects nothing but 'privacy'... 'privacy' is a broad, abstract, and ambiguous concept... The constitutional right of privacy is not found in the Constitution."
Justice Black rejected reliance on what he called the "mysterious and uncertain" concept of natural law. According to Black that theory was vague and arbitrary, and merely allowed judges to impose their personal views on the nation. Instead, he argued that courts should limit themselves to a strict analysis of the actual text of the Constitution. Black was, in addition, an opponent of the "living constitution" theory. In his dissent to Griswold (1965), he wrote:
I realize that many good and able men have eloquently spoken and written, sometimes in rhapsodical strains, about the duty of this Court to keep the Constitution in tune with the times. The idea is that the Constitution must be changed from time to time, and that this Court is charged with a duty to make those changes. For myself, I must, with all deference, reject that philosophy. The Constitution makers knew the need for change, and provided for it. Amendments suggested by the people's elected representatives can be submitted to the people or their selected agents for ratification. That method of change was good for our Fathers, and, being somewhat old-fashioned, I must add it is good enough for me.Thus, some have seen Black as an originalist. Black insisted that judges rely on the intent of the Framers as well as the "plain meaning" of the Constitution's words and phrases (drawing on the history of the period) when deciding a case. But, unlike modern rightist originalists, Black called for judicial restraint not usually seen in Court decision-making. The justices of the Court would validate the supremacy of the legislature in public policy-making, unless the legislature was denying people constitutional freedoms. Black stated that the legislature "was fully clothed with the power to govern and to maintain order.
In several other federalism cases, however, Black ruled against the federal government. For instance, he partially dissented from South Carolina v. Katzenbach, , in which the Court upheld the validity of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In an attempt to protect the voting rights of African Americans, the act required any state whose population was at least 5% African American to obtain federal approval before changing its voting laws. Black wrote that the law,
... by providing that some of the States cannot pass state laws or adopt state constitutional amendments without first being compelled to beg federal authorities to approve their policies, so distorts our constitutional structure of government as to render any distinction drawn in the Constitution between state and federal power almost meaningless.Similarly, in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970), he delivered the opinion of the court holding that the federal government was not entitled to set the voting age for state elections.
In the law of federal jurisdiction, Black made a large contribution by authoring the majority opinion in Younger v. Harris. This case, decided during Black's last year on the Court, has given rise to what is now known as Younger abstention. According to this doctrine, an important principle of federalism called "comity"—that is, respect by federal courts for state courts—dictates that federal courts abstain from intervening in ongoing state proceedings, absent the most compelling circumstances. The case is also famous for its discussion of what Black calls "Our Federalism," a discussion in which Black expatiates on
proper respect for state functions, a recognition of the fact that the entire country is made up of a Union of separate state governments, and a continuance of the belief that the National Government will fare best if the States and their institutions are left free to perform their separate functions in their separate ways.
The Korematsu decision is roundly criticized today. Issuing a rare writ of coram nobis, a district court in 1984 vacated Korematsu’s conviction. “As a legal precedent it is now recognized as having very limited application. As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution...”
Black also tended to favor law and order over civil rights activism. This led him to read the Civil Rights Act narrowly. For example, he dissented in a case reversing convictions of sit-in protesters, arguing to limit the scope of the Civil Rights Act. In 1968 he said, “Unfortunately there are some who think that Negroes should have special privileges under the law.” Black felt that actions like protesting, singing, or marching for "good causes" one day could lead to supporting evil causes later on; his sister-in-law explained that Black was "mortally afraid" of protesters. Black opposed the actions of some civil rights and Vietnam War protesters and believed that legislatures first, and courts second, should be responsible for alleviating social wrongs. Black once said he was "vigorously opposed to efforts to extend the First Amendment's freedom of speech beyond speech," to conduct.
He believed that the First Amendment erected a wall of separation between church and state. During his career Black wrote several important opinions relating to church-state separation. He delivered the opinion of the court in Everson v. Board of Education (1947), which held that the establishment clause was applicable not only to the federal government, but also to the states. His majority opinion in McCollum v. Board of Education (1948) held that the government could not provide religious instruction in public schools. In Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), he delivered an opinion which affirmed that the states could not use religious tests as qualifications for public office. Similarly, he authored the majority opinion in Engel v. Vitale (1962), which declared it unconstitutional for states to require the recitation of official prayers in public schools.
Justice Black is often regarded as a leading defender of First Amendment rights such as the freedom of speech and of the press. He refused to accept the doctrine that the freedom of speech could be curtailed on national security grounds. Thus, in New York Times Co. v. United States (1971), he voted to allow newspapers to publish the Pentagon Papers despite the Nixon Administration's contention that publication would have security implications. In his concurring opinion, Black stated,
He rejected the idea that the government was entitled to punish "obscene" speech. Likewise, he argued that defamation laws abridged the freedom of speech and were therefore unconstitutional. Most members of the Supreme Court rejected both of these views; Black's interpretation did attract the support of Justice Douglas.
However, he did not believe that individuals had the right to speak wherever they pleased. He delivered the majority opinion in Adderley v. Florida (1966), controversially upholding a trespassing conviction for protestors who demonstrated on government property. He also dissented from Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), in which the Supreme Court ruled that students had the right to wear armbands (as a form of protest) in schools, writing,
While I have always believed that under the First and Fourteenth Amendments neither the State nor the Federal Government has any authority to regulate or censor the content of speech, I have never believed that any person has a right to give speeches or engage in demonstrations where he pleases and when he pleases.
Moreover, Black took a narrow view of what constituted "speech" under the First Amendment; for him, "conduct" did not deserve the same protections that "speech" did. For example, he did not believe that flag burning was speech; in Street v. New York (1969), he wrote: "It passes my belief that anything in the Federal Constitution bars a State from making the deliberate burning of the American flag an offense. Similarly, he dissented from Cohen v. California (1971), in which the Court held that wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words "Fuck the Draft" was speech protected by the First Amendment. He agreed that this activity "was mainly conduct, and little speech."
Justice Black originally believed that the Constitution did not require the exclusion of illegally seized evidence at trials. In his concurrence to Wolf v. Colorado (1949), he claimed that the exclusionary rule was "not a command of the Fourth Amendment but ... a judicially created rule of evidence. But he later changed his mind and joined the majority in Mapp v. Ohio (1961), which applied it to state as well as federal criminal investigations. In his concurrence, he indicated that his support was based on the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of the right against self-incrimination, not on the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. He wrote, "I am still not persuaded that the Fourth Amendment, standing alone, would be enough to bar the introduction into evidence ... seized ... in violation of its commands.
In other instances Black took a fairly broad view of the rights of criminal defendants. He joined the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which required law enforcement officers to warn suspects of their rights prior to interrogations, and consistently voted to apply the guarantees of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments at the state level.
Black was the author of the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, which ruled that the states must provide an attorney to an indigent criminal defendant who cannot afford one. Before Gideon, the Court had held that such a requirement applied only to the federal government.
Black first expounded this theory of incorporation when the Supreme Court ruled in Adamson v. California (1947) that the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against self-incrimination did not apply to the states. In an appendix to his dissenting opinion, Justice Black analyzed statements made by those who framed the Fourteenth Amendment, reaching the conclusion that "the Fourteenth Amendment, and particularly its privileges and immunities clause, was a plain application of the Bill of Rights to the states.
Black's theory attracted the support of Justices such as Frank Murphy and William O. Douglas. However, it never achieved the support of a majority of the Court. The most prominent opponents of Black's theory were Justices Felix Frankfurter and John Marshall Harlan II. Frankfurter and Harlan argued that the Fourteenth Amendment did not incorporate the Bill of Rights per se, but merely protected rights that are "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," which was the standard Justice Cardozo had established earlier in Palko v. Connecticut.
The Supreme Court never accepted the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the entirety of the Bill of Rights. However, it did agree that some "fundamental" guarantees were made applicable to the states. For the most part, during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, only First Amendment rights (such as free exercise of religion and freedom of speech) were deemed sufficiently fundamental by the Supreme Court to be incorporated.
However, during the 1960s, the Court under Chief Justice Warren took the process much further, making almost all guarantees of the Bill of Rights binding upon the states. Thus, although the Court failed to accept Black's theory of total incorporation, the end result of its jurisprudence is very close to what Black advocated. Today, the only parts of the first eight amendments that have not been extended to the states are the Second, Third and Seventh amendments and the grand jury clause of the Fifth.
Black, however, believed that this interpretation of the due process clause was unjustifiably broad. In his dissent to Griswold, he charged that the doctrine of substantive due process "takes away from Congress and States the power to make laws based on their own judgment of fairness and wisdom, and transfers that power to this Court for ultimate determination." Instead, Black advocated a much narrower interpretation of the clause. In his dissent to In re Winship, he analyzed the history of the term "due process of law", and concluded: "For me, the only correct meaning of that phrase is that our Government must proceed according to the 'law of the land'—that is, according to written constitutional and statutory provisions as interpreted by court decisions.
Black's view on due process drew from his reading of British history; to him, due process meant all persons were to be tried in accordance with the Bill of Rights' procedural guarantees and in accordance with constitutionally-pursuant laws. Black advocated equal treatment by the government for all persons, regardless of wealth, age, or race. Black's view of due process was restrictive in the sense that it was premised on equal procedures; it did not extend to substantive due process. This was in accordance with Black's literalist and absolutist views.
None of Black's colleagues shared his interpretation of the due process clause. His chief rival on the issue (and on many other issues) was Felix Frankfurter, who advocated a substantive view of due process based on "natural law" - if a challenged action did not "shock the conscience" of the jurist, or violate British concepts of fairness, Frankfurter would find no violation of due process of law. John M. Harlan II largely agreed with Frankfurter, and was highly critical of Black's view, indicating his "continued bafflement at... Black's insistence that due process ... does not embody a concept of fundamental fairness" in his Winship concurrence. Since Black's death the Court has continued to apply the doctrine of substantive due process (most notably in Roe v. Wade, which proclaimed that abortion was a constitutionally protected right).
At the same time, Black did not believe that the equal protection clause made poll taxes unconstitutional. Thus, he dissented from the Court's ruling in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) invalidating the use of the poll tax as a qualification to vote. He criticized the Court for exceeding its "limited power to interpret the original meaning of the Equal Protection Clause" and for "giving that clause a new meaning which it believes represents a better governmental policy.
President Richard Nixon first considered nominating Hershel Friday to fill the vacant seat, but changed his mind after the American Bar Association found Friday unqualified. Nixon then nominated Lewis Powell, who was confirmed by the Senate.
In 1986 Black appeared on a postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service. He is one of only three Associate Justices to do so; the other two are Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. In 1987, Congress passed a law designating the new courthouse building for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in Birmingham, as the "Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse."
An extensive collection of Black's personal, senatorial, and judicial papers is archived at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, where it is open for research.
Justice Black is honored in an exhibit in the Bounds Law Library at the University of Alabama School of Law. A special Hugo Black collection is maintained by the library.
Black served on the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, making him the fourth longest-serving Justice in Supreme Court history. He was the senior (longest serving) justice on the court for an unprecedented twenty-five years, from the death of Chief Justice Stone on April 22, 1946 to his own retirement on September 17, 1971. As the longest-serving associate justice, he was acting Chief Justice from Stone's death until Vinson took office on June 24, 1946 and from Vinson's death on September 8, 1953 until Warren took office on October 5, 1953. There was no interregnum between the Warren and Burger courts in 1969.