1924 April 7

Harlan Fiske Stone Becomes Attorney General; Ends Justice Department Abuses


President Calvin Coolidge appointed Harlan Fiske Stone, former Dean of Columbia University Law School, to be Attorney General on this day. Stone replaced Harry Daugherty, who was deeply tainted by scandals during Warren G. Harding’s term as president. (Harding had just died, and Coolidge became president.) Stone immediately proceeded to clean up the Bureau of Investigation (later called the Federal Bureau of Investigation), ending spying and corrupt practices. Stone appointed J. Edgar Hoover to head the Bureau, on May 10, 1924, believing him to be a dutiful bureaucrat. Hoover was just that for about ten years; but in the mid-1930s, he embarked on an aggressive campaign to expand the Bureau’s powers, promote himself, and engage in a decades-long campaign of political spying and other abuses.

Stone was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1925, where he became a member of the liberal group, and became Chief Justice in 1941. His most famous opinion appeared in the famous Footnote Four in Carolene Products v. United States (April 25, 1938),  in which he charted a new course for the Court in protecting civil liberties.

Stone asked rhetorically “whether prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry.”

Read: Kenneth D. Ackerman, Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties (2007)

Learn more: Alpheus T. Mason, Halan Fiske Stone: Pillar of the Law (1956)

Hear one of Stone’s law clerks discuss him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAhzZEoRPl0

Read Stone’s official Justice Department biography: http://www.justice.gov/ag/aghistpage.php?id=51

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