Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with William Oliver, February 26, 1975

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Meeting Vinson

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Partial Transcript: Mr. Oliver, we'll begin then by finding out when you first met Chief Justice Vinson...

Segment Synopsis: Oliver describes how he met Chief Justice Vinson, whom he served as a legal clerk on the Supreme Court. Oliver also discusses his first impressions of Vinson during this time.

Keywords: Chief Justice; Fred M. Vinson; Harry S. Truman; Interviews; Kentucky; Law clerks; Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law; Politics; Supreme Court; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Willard Pedrick; World War II

Subjects: Dean; Education; Successful; World War; World War, 1939-1945

00:05:46 - Dynamics of the Supreme Court

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Partial Transcript: When you became his law clerk then, and, uh, uh, you had opportunities to talk with him, did he ever discuss the, the, uh, divisions within the court when he first, uh, became Chief Justice?

Segment Synopsis: Oliver articulates the dynamics of the Supreme Court during his time as a legal clerk under Chief Justice Vinson. The interactions between Vinson and the other justices are relayed. Additionally, the workload of the legal clerks is then considered.

Keywords: Chief Justice; Conferences; Felix Frankfurter; Fred M. Vinson; Issues; Opinions; Personal relationships; Professional relationships; Robert H. Jackson; Scholars; Supreme Court; Talks; Workload

Subjects: Influences; Judges; Justices; Law clerks; Leadership; Memoranda; Mentor; Reputation; Work

00:14:15 - Vinson's legal opinions

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Partial Transcript: Well, I think the person that was--raised this question in this article mentioned the fact that many of Vinson's, um, um, arguments, or the opinions that he wrote lacked personality. Uh, do you see any justification in that?

Segment Synopsis: Oliver details the change in practice of prominent political figures from writing their own speeches and legal opinions in the nineteenth century to the current practice of having others write these pieces. Oliver also explains why this change happened in the twentieth century.

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; Chief Justice; Felix Frankfurter; Fred M. Vinson; Supreme Court; Variety; Writing styles

Subjects: 19th century; 20th-century America; History; Justices; Law clerks; Legal opinions; People; Politicians; Speeches; Time; Writing

00:17:59 - Role of the Supreme Court / Vinson's opinions on politics

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, I think this ties in with, uh, Mr. Vinson's, uh, uh, interpretation of what the role of the Supreme Court should be, uh, in terms of, uh, uh, what cases it should hear and shouldn't, shouldn't hear.

Segment Synopsis: Oliver reflects upon what Vinson thought was the proper role of the Supreme Court (in terms of its relationship to the other federal courts). Following this, Vinson's relationship with Harry Truman is discussed, as well as the reaction of Vinson to Eisenhower becoming president in 1952.

Keywords: Chief Justice; Democratic Party; Dislike; Dwight D. Eisenhower; Factual issues; Federal Employers Liability Act; Fred M. Vinson; Harry S. Truman; Jurisdiction; Loss; Overruled; Partisan; Republican Party; Supreme Court; Tom C. Clark; U.S. Court of Appeals; United States presidential election, 1952; Willard Pedrick

Subjects: Judges; Justices; Presidents; Work

00:22:09 - Vinson's possible presidential campaign

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Partial Transcript: Do you think, uh, Chief Justice Vinson declined to run because of the fact that he didn't want to step down from the Supreme Court back into politics or, or just was it personal reasons, do you think?

Segment Synopsis: Oliver provides his opinion as to why Vinson declined to compete for nomination as the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in 1952, despite the urging of his friend President Truman.

Keywords: Cars; Chauffeurs; Chief Justice; Driving; Dwight Eisenhower; Fred M. Vinson; Harry S. Truman; Heart attacks; Lifetime; Nominating conventions; Overweight; Security; Supreme Court; White House; Wife

Subjects: Family History; Food; Health; Heart; Law clerks; Life expectancy; Longevity; Parties; Presidential campaigns; Smoking

00:28:12 - Interesting cases / Vinson and government

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Partial Transcript: Then, if we could move on into some of the cases that were decided by the Court while you were a law clerk for the Chief Justice.

Segment Synopsis: Oliver highlights the most interesting cases that he encountered while working under Chief Justice Vinson as a legal clerk in the early 1950s. Additionally, Oliver explains what he views as the reasoning behind Vinson siding with the government more often in legal cases as opposed to citizens.

Keywords: "Good citizens"; Chief Justice; Cold War; Conferences; Death penalty; Elections; Execution; Federal taxation; Felix Frankfurter; Fred M. Vinson; Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; Kentucky leaders; Offices; Politics; Positions; Rosenberg v. United States (1953); Supreme Court; Supreme Court cases; United States v. Reynolds (1953); World War II

Subjects: Emotions; Law clerks; World War; World War, 1939-1945

00:33:30 - Vinson and civil rights

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Partial Transcript: Uh, then of course you get into the question of, uh, civil rights.

Segment Synopsis: Oliver discusses Vinson's opinions and relationship to the civil rights movement. The outcome of the Brown v. Board of Education case if Vinson were alive and still acting as Chief Justice is also speculated upon. Lastly, Oliver talks of how Vinson's reputation regarding his civil rights stance was shaped in part by academics and Felix Frankfurter.

Keywords: Academics; Chief Justice; Convicted; Damaged; Dislike; Earl Warren; Eastern Kentucky; Felix Frankfurter; Fred M. Vinson; Government; Republicans; Society; Stanley Forman Reed; Support; Supreme Court; Sweatt v. Painter; Traditions; Unanimous; Votes; Voting blocs

Subjects: African Americans; African Americans--Segregation; Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; Civil rights; Civil rights movements; Fair trial; Fairness; Integration; Judges; Justices; Law clerks; Reputation

00:38:57 - Vinson and Tom C. Clark / Tax law

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Partial Transcript: How would you describe the relationship between Vinson and Clark?

Segment Synopsis: The relationship between Vinson and fellow Justice Tom C. Clark is explored. Then, Oliver articulates Vinson's stance on, and experience with, tax law.

Keywords: Abilities; Chief Justice; Close; Deductions; Earl Warren; Fred M. Vinson; Great Depression; McWilliams v. Commissioner (1947); Robert L. Doughton; Sherman Minton; Subcommittee on Taxation; Supreme Court; Tax law; Tax legislation; Tax reform; Tom C. Clark; United States House of Representatives; Visitors; Ways and Means Committee

Subjects: Character; Depressions--1929; Expert; Judges; Justices; Legislation; Stock transfer