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Wiley Blount Rutledge

judge , lawyer

Wiley Blount Rutledge, American judge. Member for Missouri of National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, 1931-1935, for Iowa, 1937-1943; member board of trustees, Washington College of Law, Washington, District of Columbia, 1941-1943.; Member American, Iowa, Missouri, St. Louis and Johnson County (Iowa) bar associations, Alpha Sigma Phi, Phi Alpha Delta, Delta Sigma Rho, also various educational and learned societies; Mason.


Wiley Blount Rutledge was born in Cloverport, Kentucky, on July 20, 1894, the son of Wiley B. Rutledge, Sr., and Mary Louise Wigginton Rutledge. His father was a fundamentalist Baptist preacher. His mother contracted tuberculosis in 1901, and—in spite of migrations by the family to Texas, and then Louisiana, and finally North Carolina in search of a climate that would restore her health—she died three years later, when Wiley was only nine years old.


After mother’s, Wiley’s father eventually moved again, first to Kentucky and later to Tennessee, where Wiley completed a college preparatory curricula at Marysville College in Marysville, Tennessee. There he majored in classical languages and met his future wife, Annabel Person, who taught Greek at the college. He eventually transferred to the University of Wisconsin, from which he graduated in 1914 with a B.A.

Rutledge was determined to study law, but he lacked the financial resources to continue on at the University of Wisconsin. Instead, he found work as a high school teacher in Bloomington, Indiana, and attempted to attend Indiana Law School at the same time. The same disease that had killed his mother soon destroyed his health as well, however, and he was forced to retire to a sanatorium, where he began the slow process of recovery from tuberculosis—and where he married Annabel in August 1917. This marriage would produce two daughters and a son. That same year, the couple moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in search of a climate that would further Rut-ledge’s recovery, and the future justice obtained a position as a high school teacher. He still longed for a legal career, though, and by 1920 he made a second attempt to study law at the University of Colorado, again teaching high school while he pursued his legal degree. He graduated from the University of Colorado Law School in 1922.


Though he worked for a law firm in Boulder, Colorado, for two years after his graduation, he soon settled on a vocation as a law teacher rather than as a lawyer. He joined the faculty of the University of Colorado Law School in 1924, and over the next 15 years he held academic appointments at Colorado; as professor and later dean of the law school at Washington University, St. Louis; and as dean of the University of Iowa College of Law. His career as a law school administrator coincided with the New Deal era of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he proved to be one of Roosevelt’s staunchest supporters and one of the fiercest critics of the justices on the Supreme Court who opposed Roosevelt’s legislative agenda. When the president proposed his “court-packing” plan in 1937—a plan to stack the Supreme Court with justices more hospitable to his agenda—Rutledge supported it, much to the consternation of Iovva legislators, who threatened to cut faculty salaries at the University of Iowa in retaliation for the law school dean’s obvious heresy. Officials in Roosevelt’s administration went so far as to arrange for Rutledge to testify in Congress in support of the court-packing plan, and although Rutledge agreed to do so, he planned to resign from his post at the university so as not to jeopardize the livelihood of his colleagues there. The Court, though, soon reversed its opposition to Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda and the court-packing plan was dropped before Rutledge could plant himself more formally under its banner before Congress. Rutledge’s display of support, however, did not go unnoticed by Roosevelt, and it brought the western dean into national prominence.

Though Wiley Rutledge’s name began to appear as a possible appointment to the Supreme Court in the late 1930s, President Roosevelt instead seated him first on the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Rutledge served on this court from die spring of 1939 through the winter of 1943, and while there, he established his bona tides as a New Deal progressive. When Justice James Byrnes resigned from the Court to become Roosevelt’s “assistant president” in October 1942, Roosevelt determined that it was time to advance Rudedge to the nation’s highest court. Roosevelt had shown some inclination to favor academics, and Rutledge clearly possessed this qualification. But most decisive in the president’s consideration was Rutledge’s identity' as a westerner. Western states had been clamoring to have one of their own on the Supreme Court, and Rutledge’s western background tipped consideration firmly in his favor. As the president informed him, “Wiley, we had a number of candidates for the Court who were highly qualified, but they didn’t have geography—you have that.”

Wiley B. Rutledge was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate as President Roosevelt’s last appointment to the Supreme Court on February 8, 1943, and he took the oath of office a week later.


Member for Missouri of National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, 1931-1935, for Iowa, 1937-1943. Member board of trustees, Washington College of Law, Washington, District of Columbia, 1941-1943. Member American, Iowa, Missouri, St. Louis and Johnson County (Iowa) bar associations, Alpha Sigma Phi, Phi Alpha Delta, Delta Sigma Rho, also various educational and learned societies.

Mason.; Clubs: Rotary, Torch.


Married Annabel Persen, August 28, 1917. Children: Mary Lou, Jean Ann, Neal.

Wiley Blount Rutledge

Mary Lou (Wigginton) Rutledge

Annabel Persen

Mary Lou Rutledge

Jean Ann Rutledge

Neal Rutledge


As was expected, he joined the Court’s liberal wing, voting regularly with Justices William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, and Frank Murphy. In fact, together with Justice Murphy, Rutledge became one of tire most aggressive defenders of civil rights and liberties on the Court during his six-year tenure there. Together with Murphy, he famously dissented in the Application of Yamashita (1946), when a majority of the justices on the Court refused to consider the fairness of die military proceeding in w'hich Yamashita, the Japanese governor of the Philippines during World War II, had been charged with responsibility for atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers.

Rutledge also penned a memorable dissent in one of the 20th century’s most famous church state cases. In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), a bare majority of the Court insisted that the First Amendment’s establishment clause had erected a “wall of separation between church and state,” but nevertheless approved a state statute that reimbursed the parents of private school children, including parochial school children, of transportation costs incurred in sending their children to school. Justice Rutledge, who was raised a Baptist and later became a Unitarian, wrote a dissenting opinion for the minority of lour justices who disagreed with this result. For those who advocate a strict separation between church and state, Jusdce Rudedge’s opinion remains one of the most important statements of this view ever set forth in a Supreme Court opinion. He wrote this dissent just two years before he died suddenly of a stroke on September 10, 1949, in York, Maine. He was only 55 years old at the time.