Reed, Stanley F. Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

As a justice, Reed was a strong supporter of expanded federal authority in New Deal and subsequent cases, but he usually cast conservative votes in civil liberties cases.

Reed grew up in Maysville, Kentucky, the only child of an upper-middle-class family. He graduated from Kentucky Wesleyan College and received a second bachelor’s degree from Yale. He attended law school at both the University of Virginia and Columbia but did not receive a degree. He practiced law in Maysville with large tobacco cooperatives as his major clients. A Democrat, he was active in Kentucky politics in the 1910-1928 period, serving two terms in the state legislature. He left Kentucky in 1929 to serve as general counsel to the Federal Farm Board and later to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt named him solicitor general in 1935, and Reed argued many important New Deal cases before the Supreme Court during the next three years. He was Roosevelt’s second appointee to the Court in 1938, retiring nineteen years later. He died in 1980 at age ninety-five, the longest lived of all the Supreme Court justices.Roosevelt, Franklin D.;nominations to the Court

Stanley F. Reed

(Library of Congress)

An economic liberal, Reed upheld New DealNew Deal legislation by supporting an expansion of Congress’s powers under the commerce clause. He usually sided with unions in labor dispute litigation. He supported strong governmental power generally and dissented when the Court voided President Harry S Truman’s seizure of the steel mills during theKorean War Korean War in Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer[case]Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer[Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer] (1952).

Reed was relatively conservative in freedom of expression cases. Although he gave some support to the preferred freedoms doctrine in freedom of press cases, he did not think free speech claims should override considerations of law and order. He opposed virtually all free speech claims advanced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Reed’s views matched the temper of the Cold War era; he almost always voted to uphold restrictions (for example, denial of passports or government jobs) on those suspected of being communists. Although he voted to overturn convictions obtained by outrageous police behavior, Reed generally opposed expanded claims of defendants’ rights. He wrote the Court’s opinion in Adamson v. California[case]Adamson v. California[Adamson v. California] (1947), rejecting the argument that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated all the criminal justice provisions of the Bill of Rights.

Given his Kentucky origins, Reed was comfortable with racial segregation, but he realized that times were changing. Because he was a southerner, he was assigned the opinion in Smith v. Allwright[case]Smith v. Allwright[Smith v. Allwright] (1944), which held state laws allowing only whites to vote in party primaries to be unconstitutional. (Blacks could vote in general elections, but these were of little importance in the then solidly Democratic South.) Reed was the last colleague whom Chief Justice Earl Warren convinced to sign the unanimous opinion in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

Despite nineteen years on the Court, Reed was not a memorable justice. He showed little intellectual leadership in any area of the law. His opinions seldom relied on rigorous logic and lacked inspiring rhetoric. He had no clear philosophy of constitutional interpretation, and his opinions turned on facts more often than on doctrines.

Further Reading
  • Belknap, Michal R. The Vinson Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2004.
  • Fassett, John D. New Deal Justice: The Life of Stanley Reed of Kentucky. New York: Vantage Press, 1994.
  • O’Brien, F. William. Justice Reed and the First Amendment: The Religion Clauses. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1958.
  • Parrish, Michael E. The Hughes Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2002.
  • Renstrom., Peter G. The Stone Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2001.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. The Warren Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2001.

Adamson v. California

Brown v. Board of Education

Incorporation doctrine

Preferred freedoms doctrine

Smith v. Allwright

White primaries

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer

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