Harlan Fiske Stone 1898
A U.S. Supreme Court justice for 20 years, Harlan F. Stone was a New Dealer who defended civil liberties and individual rights against a conservative court majority. A core tenet of his legal philosophy was that the law could adapt to changing societal conditions.
President Calvin Coolidge appointed Stone to the position of U.S. attorney general in 1924 and to the U.S. Supreme Court a year later. When the composition of the court began to change after 1937, Stone saw many of his dissenting opinions become majority decisions. In one otherwise obscure case, United States v. Carolene Products Co. (1938), Stone wrote what a later associate justice, Lewis Powell, called “the most celebrated footnote in constitutional law.” In it, Stone outlined the circumstances under which the judiciary could interpret the Constitution to displace decisions made by democratic means. The footnote stands as the point of demarcation in the Supreme Court’s shift toward greater protection of civil rights and liberties over the next generation. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Class of 1907, elevated the 69-year-old Stone to chief justice.
Stone graduated from Columbia Law School in 1898 after completing his undergraduate work at Amherst College. Stone was such a brilliant student that he was offered a teaching position at the Law School almost immediately after graduation. He accepted the position and simultaneously maintained a private practice. Named dean of the Law School in 1910, he served for 14 years before resigning to join a law firm. As a teacher and as dean, he was known for taking a great interest in his students, who called themselves “Stone-Agers” in his honor. In 1946, the year of Stone’s death, the Columbia Law School faculty established the Harlan Fiske Stone Scholars. The scholarships are awarded each year to recognize the academic achievement of students in each of the three J.D. classes, and in the LL.M. Program. That same year, the Harlan Fiske Stone Professorship in Constitutional Law was established.