Harry S. Truman Supreme Court candidates
During his two terms in office, President Harry S. Truman appointed four members of the Supreme Court of the United States: Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, Associate Justices Harold Burton, Associate Justice Tom C. Clark, and Associate Justice Sherman Minton.
Harold Burton nomination
When Supreme Court Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts retired in 1945, Truman decided to appoint a Republican as a bipartisan gesture. Truman had first met Harold Hitz Burton in 1941, when Burton was elected to the United States Senate, where Truman was then serving. Burton served with Truman on the Senate investigative committee that oversaw the U.S. war effort during World War II, and the two got along well.
Fred Vinson nomination
Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone died in office on April 2, 1946. Rumors that Truman would appoint Robert H. Jackson as Stone's successor led several newspapers to investigate and report on a controversy between Justice Roberts and Justice Hugo Black arising from Black's refusal to recuse himself in Jewell Ridge Coal Corp. v. Local 6167, United Mine Workers (1945). Black and Douglas allegedly leaked to newspapers that they would resign if Jackson were appointed Chief Justice. On June 6, 1946, Truman nominated Fred M. Vinson, an old friend, as Stone's replacement. Vinson was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 20, 1946 by voice vote.
Tom Clark nomination
The next vacancy occurred with the death of Justice Frank Murphy on July 19, 1949. On August 2, 1949, Truman nominated Attorney General Tom C. Clark. The New York Times called Clark "a personal and political friend [of Truman's] with no judicial experience and few demonstrated qualifications." Clark had held various position in the Justice Department during the Roosevelt Administration, and had met and become good friends with Truman during that time; when Truman became President, one of his first acts was to appoint Clark as Attorney General. After playing an active role in the effort to reelect Truman in 1948, Clark made clear to the White House that he was planning to return to Texas and the practice of law. Following Justice Murphy's sudden death, however, Truman nominated Clark to fill the vacancy, partly to bolster the majority of Chief Justice Fred Vinson, a former cabinet colleague and friend of Clark who, since his 1946 appointment by Truman, had failed to unify the Court.
Numerous attacks from across the political spectrum were leveled at the nomination, including charges of “cronyism,” a lack of judicial experience, and objections based in part on his work at the center of Truman’s anti-communist agenda and, specifically, the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations. Former Roosevelt cabinet members Henry Wallace and Harold Ickes also leveled broadsides, for both personal and ideological reasons. Ickes said about Clark's nomination to the Court, "President Truman has not 'elevated' Tom C. Clark to the Supreme Court, he has degraded the Court." Nevertheless, Clark was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 18, 1949 by a vote of 73-8.
Sherman Minton nomination
Truman's final opportunity to shape the Court came with the death of Wiley Blount Rutledge, also in 1949. Sherman Minton had previously served alongside Truman in the United States Senate, where the two had developed a close friendship. After Minton's 1940 Senate re-election bid had failed, President Roosevelt appointed him as a federal judge to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. On September 15, 1949, Truman nominated Minton to the Supreme Court, and the nomination was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 4, 1949 by a vote of 48-16.
Following is a list of individuals who were mentioned in various news accounts and books as having been considered by Truman for a Supreme Court appointment:
United States Supreme Court (elevation to Chief Justice)
- Robert H. Jackson (born 1892)
United States Courts of Appeals
- Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
- Peter Woodbury (born 1899)
- Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
- Harrie B. Chase (born 1889)
- Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
- Herbert F. Goodrich (born 1889)
- Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
- Florence Ellinwood Allen (born 1884)
- Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
- Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
NOTE: At the time of Truman's presidency, the states of the Eleventh Circuit were part of the Fifth Circuit. The Eleventh Circuit was not created until 1981.
United States District Courts
- John W. Delehant (born 1890) - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Nebraska
- Raymond W. Starr (born 1888) - Judge, United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan
State Supreme Courts
Executive Branch officials
- Tom C. Clark (born 1899) - United States Attorney General (Nominated and Confirmed)
- Charles H. Fahy (born 1892) - Former United States Solicitor General under Roosevelt
- Robert P. Patterson (born 1891) - United States Secretary of War
- Lewis B. Schwellenbach (born 1894) - United States Secretary of Labor
- Fred M. Vinson (born 1890) - United States Secretary of the Treasury (Nominated and Confirmed)
United States Senators
- Harold H. Burton (born 1888) - Senator from Ohio (Nominated and Confirmed)
- J. Howard McGrath (born 1903) - Senator from Rhode Island
- Supreme Court Nominations, 1789-present, senate.gov.
- Roger K. Newman, Hugo Black (Fordham University Press) p. 333-334.
- John M. Ferren, Salt of the Earth, Conscience of the Court (UNC Press) p. 325.
- Eisler, Kim Isaac (1993). A Justice for All: William J. Brennan, Jr., and the decisions that transformed America. Page 76. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-76787-9
- Wohl, Father, Son and Constitution,pp. 127-28
- St. Clair, James and Guzin, Linda, Chief Justice Fred Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography, (Lexington; University Press of Kentucky, 2002) p. 184.
- Wohl, Father, Son and Constitution, pp. 131-32.
- Hamby, Alonzo L. (1973). Beyond the New Deal: Harry S. Truman and American Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 337. ISBN 978-0231033350.
- Yalof, David Alistair. Pursuit of Justices: Presidential Politics and the Selection of Supreme Court Nominees. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-94545-3.
- Salokar and Volcansek (1996). Women in Law: A Bio-bibliographical Sourcebook. p. 20.