Charles Evans Whittaker

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Charles Evans Whittaker
Charles Whittaker.jpg
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office
March 22, 1957[1] – March 31, 1962
Nominated by Dwight Eisenhower
Preceded by Stanley Forman Reed
Succeeded by Byron White
Personal details
Born (1901-02-22)February 22, 1901
Troy, Kansas
Died November 26, 1973(1973-11-26) (aged 72)
Kansas City, Missouri

Charles Evans Whittaker (February 22, 1901 – November 26, 1973) was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1957 to 1962.

Early years[edit]

Whittaker was born on a farm near Troy, Kansas, and attended school until he dropped out in the ninth grade. He spent the next two years hunting, trapping and farming, but developed an interest in law by reading newspaper articles about criminal trials. He applied to the Kansas City School of Law (currently the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law) and gained admission with the condition that he first acquire a high school education. He spent two years working, and taking high school courses from a private tutor before enrolling. While he was a student at the school, from 1922 to 1924, Harry S. Truman was a classmate. He received his law degree in 1924.

Whittaker joined the law firm of Watson, Ess, Marshall & Enggas in Kansas City, Missouri and built up a practice in corporate law. He had close ties to the Republican party. This led to his first appointment as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on July 8, 1954. He then was nominated to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 5, 1956.

Supreme Court[edit]

Whittaker developed a good reputation as a judge and less than a year after being appointed to the court of appeals he was nominated to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Dwight Eisenhower, taking the oath on March 25, 1957. Whittaker thus became the first person to serve as a judge of a federal district court, a federal court of appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. Justice Samuel Blatchford also served at all three levels of the federal judiciary, but the court system was configured slightly differently at that time. Justice Sonia Sotomayer is the most recent Justice to have served in all three levels of the federal judiciary.

On the closely divided Supreme Court, Whittaker was a swing vote. According to Professor Howard Ball, Whittaker was an "extremely weak, vacillating justice" who was "courted by the two cliques on the Court because his vote was generally up in the air and typically went to the group that made the last, but not necessarily the best, argument."[2]

Whittaker failed to develop a consistent judicial philosophy, and reportedly felt himself not as qualified as some of the other members of the court. After agonizing deeply for months over his vote in Baker v. Carr, a landmark reapportionment case, Whittaker suffered a nervous breakdown in the spring of 1962. At the behest of Chief Justice Earl Warren, Whittaker retired from the Court effective March 31, 1962, citing exhaustion from the workload.[3]

Final years[edit]

Effective September 30, 1965, Whittaker resigned his position as a retired Justice in order to become chief counsel to General Motors. He also became a resolute critic of the Warren Court as well as the Civil Rights Movement, decrying the civil disobedience of the type practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers as being lawless. Like many conservatives, he criticized the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as unconstitutional.[4]

Whittaker died in 1973 at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City of a ruptured abdominal aneurysm.[5] He was survived by his wife, Winifred, and three sons, Dr. Charles Keith Whittaker, Kent E. Whittaker, and Gary T. Whittaker.

The federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, which houses the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, is named in memory of Whittaker.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: Charles Whittaker". December 12, 2009. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  2. ^ Ball, Howard. Hugo L. Black: Cold Steel Warrior. Oxford University Press. 2006. ISBN 0-19-507814-4. Page 126.
  3. ^ Whittaker is leaving U.S. Supreme Court
  4. ^ The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  5. ^ Charles Whittaker dies;On top court


  • "Former Justice Whittaker of Supreme Court is dead", The New York Times, November 27, 1973.
  • Smith, Craig Alan (2005). Failing Justice: Charles Evans Whittaker On The Supreme Court. McFarland & Company. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • [1] Papers of Richard Lawrence Miller (materials collected while working on a biography of Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Whittaker), Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Caskie Collet
Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Succeeded by
Marion Charles Matthes
Preceded by
Stanley Forman Reed
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
March 22, 1957 – March 31, 1962
Succeeded by
Byron White