Sudden Death of Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson Hot

Sudden Death of Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson

Fred M. Vinson

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Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson dies suddenly at the age of 63 in Washington, D.C. Fred Vinson served in elected government positions at a variety of levels and in all three branches of the federal government.

President Truman chose him to fill the seat of Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone in part because of this wide-ranging experience and in part because he was an outsider.

Vinson's record as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will often be rated poorly; in fact, some will label him a failure. Such characterizations are not entirely fair because the Court he presided over was already split by personal and ideological conflicts; moreover, his tenure was relatively short in comparison to those of many other Chief Justices.

Some of the criticism of Vinson can perhaps be traced to the fact that he did not develop any overarching judicial philosophy, no systematic view of the Constitution, and he did not assign many important cases to himself. However, perhaps that was the sort of Chief Justice best suited for a Court which, in retrospect, was going through an important transition phase.

Behind the Supreme Court was the "Lochner Era," a time when the Court was focused upon the protection of the interests of business and capital. In front of the Court was the era when civil rights and individual liberty would come to predominate. Indeed, for some people Vinson is most famous for the fact that his death in 1953 led to the appointment of Earl Warren as Chief Justice and that, in turn, led to the unanimous 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education.

Had Vinson been presiding over the court and not Warren, it is uncertain what the final decision would have been. Even if it had still gone the same way, it might not have been a unanimous vote — and it was precisely the unanimity which helped bolster the legitimacy of such a controversial decision.

A divided Court opinion would have provided racists and segregationists with greater leverage in their efforts to keep white and black children separated, and the course of American Civil Rights could have been very different.


Fred M. Vinson Sworn In

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