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Stanley Forman Reed Edit Profile

judge , lawyer

Stanley Forman Reed was a noted American attorney who served as United States Solicitor General from 1935 to 1938 and as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1938 to 1957. He was the last Supreme Court Justice who did not graduate from law school to serve on the Supreme Court (though Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served from 1941 to 1954, was the last such justice appointed to the Supreme Court.


Stanley Forman Reed was born on December 31, 1884, in Minerva, Kentucky, the son of John R. Reed, a physician, and Frances Forman Reed.


He received his early education in private schools and attended Kentucky Wesleyan College, from which he graduated in 1902. Thereafter, he enrolled in Yale University, receiving an additional bachelor’s degree four years later. After his undergraduate education, Reed embarked on a law school career that would eventually take him to three universities across two continents. He began by studying for a year at the University of Virginia Law School. He did not complete the curricula at Virginia, though, and returned instead to Kentucky, where he married Winifred Elgin in May 1908. In fall 1908 Reed and his wife moved to New York, where he enrolled in Columbia Law School. Here again, he decided not to remain for a degree but chose instead to travel to Paris with his wife, where they lived for a year while he studied law at the Sorbonne.


Upon returning to Kentucky, Reed was admitted to the bar in 1910 after a brief apprenticeship with a Maysville lawyer, and he set up his own practice, supplemented in its early years with political activities. Reed served as a representative to the Kentucky General Assembly from 1912 to 1916. With the entrance of the United States into World War I, Reed obtained a commission in 1918 as a lieutenant in the army, working for army intelligence. After the war, he returned to practice with the firm of Worthington, Cochran, Browning, and Reed in Maysville. Over the next decade, his firm represented clients including the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad and—most important for Reed’s future—the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association. His work for this association ultimately led to his appointment in 1929 as general counsel to the Federal Farm Board created during President Herbert Hoover’s administration. Three years later Stanley Reed became general counsel to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, created by Congress that year to combat the depression by providing financial aid to railroads, financial institutions, and agricultural operations.

The Four Horsemen, who had caused the president so much frustration, soon began to exit the Court by death or retirement. Willis Van Devanter retired in June 1937, and President Roosevelt chose to fill the vacancy with Hugo Black, who had been one of the fiercest allies of the New Deal as a senator from Alabama. At the beginning of 1938, Justice George Sutherland joined Van Devanter in retirement, and diis time the president turned to Stanley Reed to fill the new vacancy on the Court. The Senate quickly confirmed the appointment, and Justice Reed, S3 years old at the time, took his seat on the Court on January 31, 1938.

Three years after the decision in Brown, Reed, 72 years old at the time, announced his retirement from the Court, effective February 25,1957. But he was by no means retiring from public life. After leaving the Court, Reed continued to hear cases on the Court of Claims and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The year he resigned, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him as chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, but since Reed was still active as a judge, he eventually decided this position might be inconsistent with his judicial responsibilities and he resigned from it. Reed continued to maintain an office at the Supreme Court until about 1967, when declining health forced him to forgo further work. He retired to Huntington, New York, where he died at the age of 95 on April 2, 1980.


With the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, Reed continued in his post at the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. That same year Congress passed legislation overriding clauses in private and public contracts that stipulated payment in gold. This act, intended to conserve the country’s gold reserves, soon fell under legal attack. When the challenges made their way to the Supreme Court, the Roosevelt administration appointed Stanley Reed as a special assistant to the attorney general of the United States to argue the government’s position in the trilogy of cases that became known as the Gold Clause Cases (1935). Within a month after the Court announced a victory for the government in these cases, Reed was appointed solicitor general of the United States on March 18, 1935, which placed him in charge of the federal government’s important cases before the Court. Over the next three years, Reed pressed the cause of the New Deal before the “nine old men” who dealt the Roosevelt administration such vexing defeats that the president eventually proposed packing the Court with new justices who would treat his New Deal agenda more kindly. A near majority of conservative justices known as the Four Horsemen—George Sutherland, Pierce Butler, James McReynolds, and Willis Van Devanter—managed to attract the votes of Owen Roberts and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and thus declare unconstitutional some of the most lustrous gems of the New Deal. In March 1937, however, Roberts and Hughes parted ways with the Four Horsemen in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (1937), a case in which a new majority of the Court upheld a state minimum wage law for women. In view of Roosevelt’s threatened court-packing plan, this case earned a reputation as the “switch in time that saved nine.” With the “constitutional crisis” thus resolved, Roosevelt’s plan suffered defeat in Congress. In any event, the president had had his way.

By the time Reed joined the Court, the great “constitutional crisis” of 1937 had passed and the Court had adopted a posture of deference toward federal and state economic legislation. Reed, not surprisingly, reflected the same agreement with this posture in his role as a just on the Supreme Court as he had urged in his arguments before the Court as solicitor general. But his generally “liberal” stance on economic issues did not reflect his decisions in other areas of constitutional law, where he tended to embrace reladvely conservative positions. For example, in Adamson v. California (1947). Reed delivered the Court’s opinion holding that a state court prosecutor’s calling attention to a criminal defendant’s refusal to testify did not violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. At issue in the case was whether the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination, which would normally bar such comments by a prosecutor, applied to state criminal proceedings. Reed, for a majority of the Court, held that it did not.

Justice Reed’s conservative inclinations almost prompted him to dissent from the Court’s monumental decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Even though Reed had written the opinion in Smith v. Allwright (1944), invalidating Texas’s whites only Democratic primary, he doubted whether the practice of segregation offended the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. Eventually, though, Reed was persuaded to overcome his misgivings about the legitimacy of the result in Brown, and he joined with the unanimous decision announced by the Court’s new chief justice, Earl Warren.


He married Winifred Elgin in May 1908. The couple would later have two sons, Stanley and John.

Winifred Elgin - United States