Charles Evans Whittaker

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Charles Whittaker
Charles Whittaker.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
March 22, 1957 – March 31, 1962[1]
Nominated by Dwight Eisenhower
Preceded by Stanley Reed
Succeeded by Byron White
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
In office
June 5, 1956 – March 22, 1957
Nominated by Dwight Eisenhower
Preceded by John Collet
Succeeded by Marion Matthes
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri
In office
July 8, 1954 – June 5, 1956
Nominated by Dwight Eisenhower
Preceded by Albert Reeves
Succeeded by Randle Smith
Personal details
Born (1901-02-22)February 22, 1901
Troy, Kansas, U.S.
Died November 26, 1973(1973-11-26) (aged 72)
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Political party Republican
Winifred Pugh (m. 1928)
Children 1
Education University of Missouri, Kansas City (LLB)

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

After working in private practice in Kansas City, Missouri, he was appointed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Whittaker to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1957, he won confirmation to the Supreme Court, thus becoming the first individual to serve as a judge on a federal district court, a federal court of appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

During his brief tenure on the Warren Court, Whittaker emerged as a swing vote. In 1962, he suffered a nervous breakdown and resigned from the Court. After leaving the Supreme Court, he served as chief counsel to General Motors and frequently criticized the Civil Rights Movement and the Warren Court.

Early years and career[edit]

Whittaker was born on a farm near Troy, Kansas to Charles Edward Whittaker, a farmer, and Ida Eve Miller, a schoolteacher from Hagerstown, Maryland. He attended the nearby one-room Brush Creek School, and then the Troy High School (Kansas) until he dropped out in the ninth grade after his mother died on his sixteenth birthday. He spent the next three years working on a family farm, and also hunting and trapping. Whittaker developed an interest in law by reading newspaper articles about criminal trials. In the summer of 1920, he applied to the part-time evening program at the Kansas City School of Law (currently the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law) and gained admission with the condition that he would finish his high school education after personally pleading with Oliver Dean, a president of the law school. Immediately, he enrolled at Manual High School in Kansas City. He spent the next four years working during the day to support himself, and in the evenings was taking high school courses as well as classes at the K. C. School of Law. While Whittaker was a student at the school, future president Harry S. Truman was a classmate. Whittaker graduated in the class of 1924 having been admitted to the Missouri bar during his senior year.[2]

Whittaker joined the law firm of Watson, Ess, Marshall & Enggas in Kansas City, Missouri, where he previously toiled full-time as an office boy, and built up a practice in corporate law with the Union Pacific Railroad, Montgomery Ward, and the City National Bank and Trust Company among his clients. He developed close ties to the Republican party. He was appointed as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on July 8, 1954. He was nominated to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 5, 1956.[2]

Supreme Court[edit]

Whittaker developed a good reputation as a judge. 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 D. 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 U.S. Supreme Court. He was one of the four Republicans appointed to the court by Eisenhower (along with Earl Warren, John M. Harlan II, and Potter Stewart). Eisenhower appointed one Democrat, William J. Brennan, to the Court.[3]

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 Sotomayor 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."[4]

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 recused himself from the case and retired from the Court effective March 31, 1962, citing exhaustion from the heavy workload and stress.[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, characterizing the civil disobedience of the type practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers as lawless. He wrote a piece for the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin that advised protesters to use courts instead of taking to the streets.[5]

Whittaker died in 1973 at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City of a ruptured abdominal aneurysm.[6][7]


In 1928, Whittaker married Winifred R. Pugh, they had three sons, Dr. Charles Keith Whittaker, a neurosurgeon; Kent E. Whittaker, an attorney; and Gary T. Whittaker, a stockbroker.

Legacy and honors[edit]

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. Archived from the original on May 13, 2009. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Smith, Craig A. Failing Justice: Charles Evans Whittaker on the Supreme Court. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Company, 2005.
  3. ^ a b "Whittaker is leaving U.S. Supreme Court", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 30 March 1962
  4. ^ Ball, Howard. Hugo L. Black: Cold Steel Warrior, Oxford University Press. 2006. ISBN 0-19-507814-4. Page 126.
  5. ^ Urofsky, Melvin I. The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Pub, 1994.
  6. ^ "Charles Whittaker dies; On top court", Youngstown Vindicator, 27 November 1973
  7. ^ "Former Justice Whittaker of Supreme Court is dead," The New York Times, November 27, 1973.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Albert Reeves
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri
Succeeded by
Randle Smith
Preceded by
John Collet
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Succeeded by
Marion Matthes
Preceded by
Stanley Reed
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Byron White