Partial Transcript: What were the general circumstances of meeting him and what your first impressions were of him?
Segment Synopsis: In this first segment, Price tells of how he met Vinson and what his impressions of Vinson were.
Keywords: Chief Justice; Divisions; Justice Robert H. Jackson; Justices
Subjects: United States. Supreme Court; Vinson, Fred M., 1890-1953
Partial Transcript: Well you know the, the press charged in, uh, 1949 that Vinson was setting a bad example as a Chief Justice because he wasn't carrying his fair share of the workload.
Segment Synopsis: Price discusses some of the questions surrounding Vinson's work ethic and talks about what it was like to work under Vinson as a clerk.
Keywords: Chief Justice; Justices; Laws; Opinions; Works
Subjects: United States. Supreme Court; Vinson, Fred M., 1890-1953
Partial Transcript: 'Course, Mr. Vinson held many different jobs during his career.
Segment Synopsis: Price discusses some of the careers that Vinson had over the years and how those experiences, along with his disposition, influenced the way the Court was run under his administration.
Keywords: Administrations; Courts; Jobs
Subjects: Steel industry and trade--Law and legislation--United States--Cases.; Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972; United States. Supreme Court; United States. Supreme Court--Cases; Vinson, Fred M., 1890-1953
Partial Transcript: Uh, he ever talk to you, being a fellow Kentuckian, about Kentucky politics?
Segment Synopsis: Price gives his opinion on the views Vinson held about politics and about the role of political offices.
Keywords: Accepted; Chief Justice; Constitutions; Courts; Justices; Legislation
Subjects: Congress; Politics and government; Race relations; Segregation in education; United States. Supreme Court; Vinson, Fred M., 1890-1953
Partial Transcript: What type of cases was Chief Justice Vinson mostly interested in personally?
Segment Synopsis: Price talks about some of the cases that Vinson worked on that were of personal significance to him.
Keywords: Cases; Courts; Legal; Taxation; Taxes
Subjects: United Mine Workers of America; United States. Supreme Court; Vinson, Fred M., 1890-1953
Partial Transcript: Of course in 1952 there's a lot of talk about Chief Justice Vinson, uh, being the Democratic presidential nominee.
Segment Synopsis: In this final segment, Price gives his personal view on the possible accomplishments Vinson might have had if he were still alive and the actual accomplishments that Vinson did achieve while he was still alive.
Keywords: Chief Justice; Justices; Nominees; Students
Subjects: Democratic Party (Ky.); Presidents--Election; United States. Supreme Court; Vinson, Fred M., 1890-1953
BIRDWHISTELL: --what were the general circumstances of meeting him, and whatyour first impressions were.
PRICE: He was secretary of the treasury in the spring and early summerof 1946, and I was an assistant to the undersecretary of the treasury, former governor of North Carolina, O. Max Gardner. Governor Gardner had very close relations with Secretary Vinson who would come into his office from time to time and I met him on some of those occasions, although I never actually had any business with him. He knew I was a Kentuckian and he knew that Governor Gardner 00:01:00thought well of me. Then when Secretary Vinson was named chief justice about the first of July, 1946 he invited me to be his law clerk and I accepted and started work right away.
BIRDWHISTELL: Did you have any impressions of how he did his job as secretaryof the treasury?
PRICE: I really did not have any contact with him when he was secretaryand I was in the department except casual meetings.
BIRDWHISTELL: Well, were you surprised when President Truman appointed him tobe chief justice?
PRICE: No. I was not surprised. I don't mean by that that I expectedit. But he was generally regarded as one of the most, if not the most, 00:02:00influential member of the Truman administration. He stood very high in the government councils and had several years experience in the judicial branch, as a judge of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. So it was not at all a surprising appointment.
BIRDWHISTELL: Of course when the appointment was made what was making thegreatest amount of publicity then, I suppose, was the divisions within the Court itself. Did Chief Justice Vinson ever talk with you after you became his clerk about these divisions in the Court?
PRICE: I really don't remember whether he ever made some casual commenton it. He certainly did not discuss the subject with me in any systematic way, 00:03:00or he certainly did not invite my help on that problem.
BIRDWHISTELL: I think what's interesting to historians is how he went about totry and heal those differences. Were you aware of any move he was making to try and bring the Court together?
PRICE: No. I knew, of course, when his appointment was announced thatJustice [Robert H.] Jackson was then in Nuremberg, and there were headlines in the press about statements that Justice Jackson made, critical of the president because of the Vinson appointment, or because of the failure to name Justice Jackson.
[Interruption in taping]00:04:00
PRICE: I just have a recollection that I was aware at the time that thiswas a subject -- I'm sure that I knew at the time and I suppose the whole country knew that the personal feeling within the Court was something that concerned him as chief justice and concerned the president and other people. But that was something he never discussed with me; I'm sure he never discussed 00:05:00it with any of his law clerks.
BIRDWHISTELL: Do you think, just from your position, that you were able to tellwhether he actually overcame this problem? Some historians believe that the divisions were kind of smoothed over and others think maybe they were still apparent for many years.
PRICE: I think the divisions were partly, perhaps, philosophicaldifferences between justices and partly personal feelings. And I would guess that they probably were ameliorated somewhat during that year that I worked 00:06:00there. But that's very much a guess on my part. Certainly to my eyes, and I think to the eyes of any of the law clerks, there were not any striking, overt signs of friction. You never saw any altercations or never heard voices raised. But you probably did get some indications from some of the justices that they weren't strong admirers of others, but it was always very restrained. 00:07:00
BIRDWHISTELL: You mentioned the philosophical differences of different justiceson the Court. I think historians are interested in knowing when Mr. Vinson came to the Court, did any particular group try to get him on their side or did he align himself with any particular philosophical group inside the Court?
PRICE: Well, he wasn't generally regarded as an ally of one group oranother, and of course these groups were not very fixed, and certainly not organized or stable. I do remember that at that time Justices [Hugo L.] Black, [William O.] Douglas, [Wiley B.] Rutledge, and [Frank] Murphy were supposed to 00:08:00be a kind of a left wing and Jackson, [Felix] Frankfurter, and [Harold H.] Burton, and [Stanley] Reed, I guess, were generally considered a little more conservative group. I suppose Vinson was sort of in the middle. On the other hand, of course, some of those others would be in the middle at times, too. It wasn't entirely rigid at all. Depended on the issue quite a bit.
BIRDWHISTELL: The press changed in 1949 that Vinson was setting a bad example00:09:00as the chief justice because he wasn't carrying his fair share of the work load. Is that an accurate statement, do you think? Or what are the circumstances that would lead the press to make such a charge?
PRICE: I think probably the principle basis of that was, somebody did alittle statistical work and they looked at the number of opinions coming out under the names of each of the various justices and used these as measures of quantity of work done. I wouldn't say that that kind of measurement is entirely meaningless; I think there is some significance to it; I think it is a rather 00:10:00crude yardstick but maybe it's the best anybody has short of personal knowledge. Although I never did much checking on that subject, I have the impression that he wasn't one of the more prolific writers. But, I think that on any Court there are some judges who do more writing and there are some who do more work in other respects. And, of course, as chief justice he had administrative duties 00:11:00and requirements imposed on him that were peculiar to his position. I think he carried his share of the workload, despite these relative figures on numbers of opinions. Part of the explanation about the numbers of opinions was also based on dissents and concurring opinions, the numbers of those. And Chief Justice Vinson wasn't particularly interested in writing dissents or concurring opinions. He may have done some dissents. I don't remember his ever writing a concurring opinion, maybe he did. 00:12:00
BIRDWHISTELL: That's what historians are pointing out, that he would wait untilall the other dissents were written and then go along with the ones already written. Along with this is the point that some have made that Chief Justice Vinson relied heavily on his law clerks. When you worked with him, did you notice that he relied on you and the others more so than maybe the other justices relied on their law clerks?
PRICE: Well, there are different ways of relying on law clerks, and hecertainly used his law clerks. I felt that one of the sources of satisfaction that I had working for him was that I didn't feel I was spinning my wheels. I felt like my time was being utilized in a way that was helpful to him and that I 00:13:00was accomplishing something. He used his law clerks for research and the writing of memoranda, to help him on the reading that was required and the writing that was required, which I think is what a law clerk is for. He did not use or rely on his law clerks in the sense of being dependent on them to make decisions for him. I don't say that with the idea that I am distinguishing him from other justices. I shouldn't really speak about what other justices do in that respect because I didn't have the personal contact with them. I doubt very much any of them use their law clerks in that sense. I think that a notion that 00:14:00is to some extent held by the public or maybe expounded somewhat by the press is that law clerks have a lot of influence over the judges they work for, at least in some instances, in persuading them to take on position or another or how to vote on a case. I think that theory is vastly overrated as a general thing, and I think that in any realistic sense, the only way Chief Justice Vinson's law clerks influenced him was by producing legal data that he sent them to the books 00:15:00to extract for his assistance in considering cases that were before him.
BIRDWHISTELL: Of course Vinson had the reputation of being very personable.Did you notice this among the law clerks when you were there?
PRICE: Well, he was not what I would call real chummy. He did not spendlong hours socializing with the law clerks, but he was personable and he was affable in the sense that he was always gracious, very considerate and he was 00:16:00never too busy to say a few words on personal subjects. He always liked to pass a few remarks on sports subjects. He was interested in baseball and football. But certainly I did not, and I'm also sure that none of his other law clerks spent hours with him in that respect. He was a very dignified man, and a man that you didn't get to be casual or extremely informal with. Informal is not 00:17:00quite the right word, maybe, but you didn't push you -- you didn't take liberties -- That's about the best I can describe it. He had you in there for business purposes, and you went in and did your business in a pleasant way, and that was about it.
BIRDWHISTELL: I suppose the work load was fairly heavy for the clerks, wasn't it?
PRICE: It was. It was quite heavy and we worked very hard. That'snothing unusual for law clerks down there, and the justices worked hard. Well, 00:18:00on that basis about the effort expended, it would be very difficult to make comparisons because you'd see all members of the Court and you'd see all the law clerks around there at all hours of the day and many in the evening, too.
BIRDWHISTELL: I think that's as good a point as being something out of theordinary, is just saying that things were the same as the others. Of course, Mr. Vinson held many different jobs during his career. I was curious, do you think he enjoyed being chief justice?
PRICE: I think he did, yes. I don't know for sure whether he enjoyed it00:19:00as much as he did his posts in the executive branch, and in the legislative, and in the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia or not. I think he enjoyed it.
[Interruption in taping]
PRICE: I'm sure that when he went on the Court he didn't forget all he'dever known about his legislative and his work in the executive departments. He was still interested in those areas. I think one place that's evident is in the 00:20:00opinion on the steel seizure case. I guess that was his last year he was on the Court, last year of his life. Of course, long after I worked for him. But I did read that opinion at the time and I can remember thinking this approach that he's taking here certainly reflects his concern about the responsibilities of the president for the maintaining of good order and supporting the economy and so forth. Seeing that the government is operated the way it should be. Part of 00:21:00his attitude, part of Chief Justice Vinson's attitude is because he himself shared those responsibilities at one time.
BIRDWHISTELL: I think what you're saying is important in the fact that hisprior positions influenced him later as a chief justice, the war and then the development of the Cold War, and his relationship with the Truman administration. Do you think there was an undue influence on his opinions, perhaps, from being so close to the Truman administration?
PRICE: Well, I didn't think so. I personally thought Chief JusticeVinson's position in the steel seizure case was correct. I perhaps wouldn't do too good a job in explaining that at the moment because I don't remember the case too well, but I can remember at the time, perhaps partly because I was 00:22:00partial to him, but I thought his position was well-taken. After all, of course, everybody comes to the Court with various -- one kind of experience or another, and the background that acquaints you with the problems and the responsibilities of the executive departments and government administration I think should be just as important as any other kind of background.
BIRDWHISTELL: Following the same line, his connection with the Trumanadministration, of course Chief Justice Vinson was a politician for a long time and he continued to take an interest in politics. I was wondering if he ever talked with you or the other law clerks about the politics of the time in regard 00:23:00to the Truman administration and what was happening in the country. Did he ever discuss politics in general with you?
PRICE: Well, that's a hard question to answer. He wasn't the kind of aman who would just, say, sort of drop an iron curtain and say, "Well now these subjects are taboo, I'll never say a word on it." He would make remarks, or casual comments about things at times. He was very easy and informal in that sense. But, I don't recall ever having had a sustained discussion with him on such subjects. I don't really ever recall having a sustained discussion with him of anything except the business we were working on. But, yes, he would say 00:24:00things at times that would sort of indicate his approach and his sympathies and sentiments. But, as I say, they were offhand remarks and it wasn't something he did all the time.
BIRDWHISTELL: I was curious if he ever talked to you, beinga fellow Kentuckian, about Kentucky politics?
PRICE: I was kind of long away from Kentucky even then. I had been bornand raised in Kentucky but I went away from Kentucky to college and then to law school and then during the war, so I hadn't spent much time there for ten or twelve years before I was there, and I really wasn't well posted on Kentucky politics. No, I don't recall anything about it. 00:25:00
BIRDWHISTELL: Along another line then, how do you think Chief Justice Vinsoninterpreted the role of the Supreme Court? The long argument over the Court, whether it should lead society or reflect what's going on in society --
PRICE: As you know, that's not an easy question to answer. I reallyhaven't spent any time trying to work out a systematic analysis of his approach in this way. I think, however, I would say by today's standards he would 00:26:00probably be considered a judicial conservative in the sense that I don't think that he conceived of the Court as -- I don't think he had any explicit philosophy that the Court was justified in legislating, just to use, I guess the easiest way of saying this. On the other hand, I do think that he thought the Court should not be completely literal in its reading of Constitutional or 00:27:00statutory provisions. That they ought to have regard to common sense understanding. He probably wouldn't say that was the key word, common sense understanding of what members of the Constitutional Convention and members of the Congress in writing constitutional provisions and legislative provisions were trying to do and intending. There is some famous aphorism from an opinion of the House of Lords, I think, where the judge says he's not interested in what 00:28:00the Parliament intended, the law is what the statute says. If they didn't say that then they didn't pass the law that they intended. Well, I don't think that was Vinson's approach. I think he did believe in statutory construction on the basis of legislative intent. And he certainly was quite ready to go back to sources in legislative history, committee reports and debates and so forth, for the purpose of the interpreting laws. I really don't know what his reaction 00:29:00would be to some of the situations today, where, I guess -- Just as an example, separation of church and state, where, as I recall, in some opinions it's been said in effect that, well, it's true this kind of situation was accepted at the time the Constitution was put into force, and consequently we cannot say that as 00:30:00of that time what was done then was considered unconstitutional because obviously nobody regarded it as so then. But today the situation has changed and so we ought to, in effect, change the meaning of the Constitution. I guess the same sort of approach perhaps is taken on the question of the death sentence, whether that's cruel and unusual punishment. I think the approach is that, well, it was obviously accepted at that time but we shouldn't accept it anymore 00:31:00today, even though there hasn't been a change in the Constitution. As to constitutional questions -- of course, the one that has been of primary interest since that time, about race relations and school segregation and so forth. A case on race relations did come before the Court the year that I was working down there. Actually, I think though, that case wasn't a school case but was a restricted covenant case, restricted covenants on the use of land here in the District of Columbia. As a matter of fact, that may not have been a 00:32:00constitutional case, that may have been a question of applying the law of the District of Columbia. And I was a little surprised at his approach to it. He took the position that the restricted covenant was invalid, a racial covenant. And he not only took that position but he obviously felt that way from -- he didn't have to be persuaded by other members of the Court. He was strongly of that view.
BIRDWHISTELL: You say you were surprised by this?
PRICE: Well, I was a little bit surprised, because I do think that hebelieved in the doctrine of stare decisis. He believed in following prior court 00:33:00decisions. And I really thought it was -- however desirable that result might be, it was a little bit hard to -- if you approached the thing in a very legally technical manner you had a little bit of difficulty coming to that conclusion.
BIRDWHISTELL: That's an interesting point. Of course, the cases that came upright before his death, I think, the race cases, I think the Vinson Court again has been criticized for hesitancy in moving in the direction of equal rights. I think, probably, that's what you pointed out, his conservative nature in terms 00:34:00of how you approach the cases, not necessarily his philosophy. One question I'd like to find out about is his approach to the job of chief justice and how he viewed the role of the chief justice in the Supreme Court. Whether he's just one among equals or whether he saw it as sort of a chief of staff or president. Do you have any recollections on that?
PRICE: Well, the chief justice is -- I really don't -- I can'tcontribute much on that. Chief justice is a presiding officer and he had certain administrative responsibilities. Among other things, he has the 00:35:00recognized responsibility for making designations as to who shall write opinions and so on. And of course all those things which were accepted responsibilities for the chief justice, naturally, he did. I'm sure that he felt a responsibility for doing whatever he could for the good order and good administration of the Court. He probably would have said that that was, however, the responsibility of other members of the Court as well as his own, that they all had a responsibility to do whatever they could to contribute to 00:36:00that end. I never have known what to think about discussions about chief justices as leaders on the Court, in the sense that, I have the feeling almost without exception, so far as I know, these justices all are men who have -- who are mature, of course, and have fully developed notions about what is right and 00:37:00wrong or what they think is right and wrong, and their approaches. And they're a pretty hard bunch to lead, I think! [Laughter]
BIRDWHISTELL: You're saying there's only so much a chief justice could do anyway.
PRICE: I really don't think there's much a chief justice can do by wayof selling points of view or approaches to how to vote to the other justices. It could be even that this is just as true if a justice is extremely learned and 00:38:00a man of very strong and positive views, he would be hard to lead for that reason. And you might also come to the conclusion, looking at some of them and thinking about them, that if they were just the opposite, if they were not very learned and didn't have very strong views they might be very hard to persuade just because they don't want to let it appear that they consider themselves persuaded! [Laughter]
BIRDWHISTELL: What type of cases was Chief Justice Vinson mostly interested in00:39:00personally? Is there a category?
PRICE: I would say on the year I was there that, without doubt, that thecase he was most interested in was the United Mine Workers case. That was a prosecution of the United Mine Workers and John L. Lewis for disobeying or alleged disobedience of an order to terminate a coal strike. And they were fined by the District Court here in the District of Columbia. I think the union was fined a million dollars and John L. Lewis ten thousand or something like that, whatever it was. He was extremely interested in that case. Of course 00:40:00there were a lot of very difficult legal issues in the case.
BIRDWHISTELL: Is that the case where Chief Justice Vinson talked to Mr. Lewiswhile the case was being decided?
PRICE: Not that I know of. Never heard of that. I never heard of that.The chief justice wrote the opinion in that case. And there were dissents and there may have been some concurrences, and there were two or three different, quite important, issues, so that there may have been different splits in the Court, I don't remember, on different issues. There were several different 00:41:00questions about the right of the Court to issue an injunction against the continuation of the strike, and the right of the Court to punish for contempt not in its presence, and a lot of things. And they were -- as technical legal issues I don't think they were easy. However, I do think the thing that appealed to him was that he considered it a case of great public interest and public importance, which it certainly was. Then, secondly, in a somewhat different way he was interested in tax cases because he had been on the Ways and 00:42:00Means Committee for many years, one of the leading members of the Ways and Means Committee and he knew tax legislation. And tax cases on the Supreme Court are mostly questions of construing Congressional tax laws that he'd had a hand in considering and passing when he was on the Ways and Means Committee. So that was something that caught his eye and was of interest to him.
BIRDWHISTELL: Were you already interested in tax law when you met him?
PRICE: Yes, I was. I had not had any real background in taxes at thattime. I don't really know why I was interested. I think the principal reason I was interested was I'd had a couple of courses in taxation in law school which I 00:43:00liked very much. I had a good teacher in the area and so that was all I had actually in my background. But it did interest me, and after I got through up there I went into the Internal Revenue Service.
BIRDWHISTELL: Are there any other particular cases during that year that standout in your mind that might be of interest?
PRICE: Thinking back on the particular cases, that United Mine Workerscase and then two tax cases which he also wrote the opinions are the only ones I 00:44:00can remember at the moment. I'm sure if I looked back through the books it would come back to me, but I just haven't had occasion to think about it.
BIRDWHISTELL: That's very understandable. In 1952 there was a lot of talkabout Chief Justice Vinson being the Democratic presidential nominee. Did you ever get the impression that he had any future political hopes or ambitions when you worked with him?
PRICE: As a matter of fact, what you say about '52I had forgotten. I follow politics just as a newspaper reader, pretty closely. And I'd forgotten that he was discussed as a possible candidate in '52. My guess is there were a lot of people discussed because there wasn't any clear front-runner when Truman said that he wasn't going to run again. No, I never 00:45:00had any impression at all that Chief Justice Vinson would ever go back into politics. I don't mean by that that I ever heard anything said that he would not do so. I know that he was very interested in politics. There's no question about that. But I didn't have any idea he'd go back in.
BIRDWHISTELL: I guess then as kind of a summary, how would you evaluate hisoverall career as a chief justice, maybe in comparison with other chief justices 00:46:00or just in your own view, just your own evaluation?
PRICE: I would just say as a summary, I admired him and I not only likedhim personally but I liked his position on things. Perhaps that's because my views happened to be very much the same as his. Not that he formed my views and 00:47:00certainly I didn't form his. He was a man of moderate approach and I guess you'd call it primarily a middle of the road approach. He certainly was not a radical and he certainly was not a reactionary. He had been a fairly liberal Democrat in the '30s and '40s, but not a wild-eyed one by any means.
BIRDWHISTELL: A New Dealer.
PRICE: Yes, he did believe in a strong central government, which ofcourse was then considered to be one of the planks I guess of liberal democracy. 00:48:00That was where the New Deal came from, the central government, and he supported the government's taxing power, he supported the government in the steel seizure case, he believed that in fighting World War II the government had to have powers and had to exercise powers. And all that seemed to make sense to me.
BIRDWHISTELL: You mentioned he wasn't a prolific writer, which I think mostpeople would say. But is there any question in your mind about his legal abilities, his knowledge of past cases?
PRICE: No, he'd had, I guess, a couple of years on the Court of Appealsin the district. It wasn't a long time but he had enough time to certain learn 00:49:00the ropes there. He had not practiced law a great deal, I don't think. As I recall, he was county attorney or something of that sort, wasn't he?
BIRDWHISTELL: Commonwealth attorney. For about three counties there in eastern Kentucky.
PRICE: He certainly did not have the scholarly background thatFrankfurter had. He didn't have the scholarly background that he himself would have had after ten or fifteen years on the Court like Black had at the time, and Douglas had. And of course then Douglas, too, had been a law professor. So, 00:50:00you wouldn't call him a [Oliver Wendall] Holmes type by any means, but on the other hand he was a highly literate person. He could receive the briefs of counsel in cases and assimilate them and analyze them and read the cases that were cited as precedent and assimilate what his law clerks gave him and be prepared to debate the issue just as well as anybody.
BIRDWHISTELL: Well, finally then, do you recall any anecdotes about the man00:51:00personally while he was chief justice or any time during the relationship that you might want to share?
PRICE: Well, this is what I had in mind when I said a little while agothat he was not extremely informal with his law clerks. There wasn't any horseplay going on. I have difficulty thinking about stories. I can remember, he'd gone to Centre College in Kentucky and I'd had several relatives go to Centre College. He liked to say something now and then about Centre. He had a 00:52:00little sentimentality like most people do and he liked Centre and I guess they were proud of him. And he had been a good student there and had also been on the baseball team. I certainly heard on two or three occasions from him that he'd been a good student and a good baseball player! [Laughter] And Fred Vinson, Jr., I don't know whether you've met him or not, probably have. Fred was, I think, at that time down at Washington and Lee [University], I'm not sure whether he was then in law school or college. And Fred was doing well, he was very proud of Fred. I'd been to Yale Law School and Fred, I guess had -- I 00:53:00don't know whether Fred had thought about going to Yale or whether the chief justice had thought about sending him up there at one time, and then he kind of got soured on some members of the faculty at Yale. Yale Law School had at least, well, they had somebody or maybe several that he considered a little wild-eyed. So, I can remember that he expressed to me that he didn't think Yale Law School was the greatest place in the world. And Fred was going to W. and L.! [Laughter] He was a great friend and a great admirer of President 00:54:00Truman's. And Truman obviously must have thought the same about him. So, I guess that's about it.
BIRDWHISTELL: Thank you very much.
PRICE: Yes. Well, it's been a pleasure.
[End of Interview]
Karl R. Price by Terry L. Birdwhistell - Jean Schmeisser