Reed, Stanley F. (1884–1980)

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REED, STANLEY F. (1884–1980)

Stanley Forman Reed, a descendant of Kentucky gentry, was educated at Kentucky Wesleyan College, Yale, Columbia, the University of Virginia, and the Sorbonne. He then returned to Maysville, Kentucky, where he entered private law practice and Democratic party politics. After serving two terms in the Kentucky General Assembly, he was called to Washington as counsel to the Federal Farm Board during herbert c. hoover's administration. His competence as a legal technician led to his promotion to general counsel to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) and his retention at that post when franklin d. roosevelt came to power. During the early years of the new deal, Reed played an important role in the attempts at economic revival through the RFC and in the framing of new legislation by the Brain Trust. He defended New Deal measures before an unreconstructed Supreme Court, first as special counsel arguing the gold clause cases and then as solicitor general from 1935 to 1938. Reed was Roosevelt's second appointee to the Supreme Court, taking office January 15, 1938, and replacing Justice george h. sutherland.

Reed was a moderate man in both personal style and constitutional views. He occupied a position of influence between the Court's liberal and conservative wings, between activists and advocates of judicial self-restraint. He was most comfortable with the majority and was willing to modify his views as the Court majority shifted. In a Court marked by strong personalities, Reed was able to maintain cordial relations with colleagues of different ideological persuasions.

Reed's opinions are not noted for ringing phrases or rigid insistence on principled positions. The discussion places great weight on the specifics of factual circumstances and often takes on a dialectic quality, a paragraph-by-paragraph dialogue between the Justice and a holder of divergent views whom Reed is trying to accommodate and coopt. The other voice may be internal; perhaps, if it is not that of the Justice himself it may belong to a defeated law clerk, echoing the heated in-chambers arguments Reed relished.

A central theme that runs through Reed's views on many constitutional issues is his willingness to uphold the exercise of governmental power by both the federal government and the states. He had faith in the good intentions of government officials, and was rarely willing to infer impermissible motives behind their actions. These attitudes are consistent with Reed's experience as the architect and legal manager of New Deal programs and as the advocate who defended these laws before a hostile Supreme Court. Justice Reed was a key part of the new majority of the Court that upheld federal regulation in the face of challenges under the due process clause. In dissent with Chief Justice fred m. vinson he was a staunch defender of presidential power in youngstown sheet tube company v. sawyer (1952). Similarly, he was notably willing to defer to administrative fact-finding and interpretation of statutes.

These same attitudes can be seen in Reed's approach to criminal procedure, particularly in cases presenting claims of abusive police behavior. His deference to what he saw as another administrative agency was reinforced by the attitudes of a Mason County, Kentucky, landowner, whose experience led him to think of the police as a benevolent small-town constabulary. Beginning with his lone dissent in United States v. McNabb (1943), Reed deferred to the police and to state procedural rules in ways that led him to accept behavior that a majority of his colleagues found unacceptable. "I am opposed to broadening the possibilities of defendants escaping punishment by these more rigorous technical requirements on the administration of justice," he wrote in McNabb.

Reed occupied a pivotal position on the Court in civil rights cases. He joined with and frequently wrote for the majority in vindication of the rights of blacks, including morgan v. virginia (1945), smith v. allwright (1943), and brown v. board of education (1954). However, like a majority of his colleagues, he saw the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II in a different light. (See japanese american cases.)

Reed was slow to join the emerging majority during the 1940s that protected Jehovah's Witnesses in the exercise of their religion; his view on released time for religious instruction of public school pupils, expressed originally in his sole dissent in mccollum v. board of education (1948), became substantially the majority position in zorach v. clausen (1952). He was relatively permissive of local time, place, and manner regulations of soundtrucks in kovacs v. cooper (1948), but often voted with the absolutist position of Justices hugo l. black and william o. douglas regarding other public speech issues, as he did in beauharnais v. illinois (1952) and terminiello v. chicago (1947). Nonetheless, Reed sided with the finding of necessity of police action against a public speaker in feiner v. new york (1951).

A more consistent theme in Reed's positions was his opposition to what he saw as political radicalism. He upheld federal and state statutes as well as legislative and grand jury investigative powers and deportation aimed at the removal of "security risks." Writing for the Court majority, he also upheld the power of the federal government to limit the political activities of its employees in United Public Workers v. Mitchell (1947).

Justice Reed retired from active service on the Supreme Court in 1957, but continued to sit on the Court of Claims and Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, as special master for the Supreme Court in original jurisdiction cases, and briefly as chairman of the civil rights commission. He died in 1980 at the age of ninety-five, having lived longer than any other Justice in history.

Arthur Rosett


Pritchett, C. Herman 1969 Stanley Reed. In Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel, eds., The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: 1789–1969, Vol. 3:2373–2389. New York: Chelsea House.