Harlan Fiske Stone Biography

Supreme Court Justice (1872–1946)
Known for his judicial objectivity, Harlan Fiske Stone served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1941 to 1946.


Born on October 11, 1872 in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, Harlan Fiske Stone attended Amherst College and Columbia University's law school, later working as a professor and corporate lawyer. President Calvin Coolidge appointed him U.S. attorney general in 1924. The next year, Stone was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. He became chief justice in 1941, a position held until his death in 1946.

Early Life and Career

Born on October 11, 1872 in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, Harlan Fiske Stone served as chief justice on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1941 to 1946. The son of farmers, he grew up in a rural community in Massachusetts. Stone went to high school in Amherst and continued his studies at Amherst College.

After completing his bachelor's degree in 1894, Stone moved to New York City for law school, earning his degree from Columbia University in 1898. He remained at the school as a professor after his graduation. Stone also went to work as a corporate lawyer.

Appointed to Supreme Court

Stone rose to national prominence in 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge appointed him U.S. attorney general. He helped improve the image of the Department of Justice, which had been sullied during the Harding administration. He reorganized the department and selected J. Edgar Hoover to lead the FBI, who would later become a highly controversial figure.

The following year, Stone was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court as an associate justice. Some were wary of Stone's Wall Street background, and he faced some opposition in the confirmation process. He chose to appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to dispel concerns, becoming the first Supreme Court nominee to do so.

During his tenure on the court, Stone often dissented against the majority opinions. He opposed the ruling in Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940), a battle over the right to abstain from saluting the American flag and saying the Pledge of Allegiance on religious grounds. The court upheld the expulsion of a Jehovah's Witness child from public school for refusing to participate in this daily school activity. This decision was later overturned.

Becomes Chief Justice

In 1941, Stone was nominated to become the court's chief justice by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was a remarkable move, considering that Stone was a Republican and Roosevelt was a Democrat.

Stone oversaw the Supreme Court during World War II. He supported the U.S. policy of internment for those of Japanese ancestry through such decisions as Hirabayashi v. United States (1943) and Korematsu v. United States (1944).

Stone remained the court's chief justice until his death on April 22, 1946 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. President Harry S. Truman remembered Stone for "his high sense of duty, his great legal learning and the clarity of his judicial reasoning." Stone left behind his wife Agnes and their two sons Marshall and Lauson.

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