Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1978947
 


 



What If Chief Justice Fred Vinson Had Not Died of a Heart Attack in 1953?: Implications for Brown and Beyond


Carlton F. W. Larson


University of California, Davis - School of Law

2011

Indiana Law Review, Vol. 45, p. 131, 2011
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 283

Abstract:     
This Essay, written for an Indiana Law Review symposium on counterfactuals in constitutional history, explores what might have happened if Chief Justice Fred Vinson had not died of a heart attack in September 1953.

The Essay contends that Chief Justice Vinson’s untimely death deprived him of the historical stature to which he otherwise would have been entitled. It concludes, contrary to many accounts, that Vinson would have authored a unanimous opinion of the Court in Brown v. Board of Education invalidating segregation in public schools. This conclusion is bolstered by Vinson’s decisions in prior race cases, by his consistent support for the policies of the federal government, by his fervent anti-Communism, and by his close friendship with President Harry Truman. Authorship of Brown would have given Vinson instant historical immortality, guaranteeing his place among the nation’s most significant chief justices.

Moreover, if Vinson had survived, Earl Warren would not have become Chief Justice. Vinson’s more likely successors would have been John Marshall Harlan (under Eisenhower) or Byron White (under Kennedy). Depending on the timing of Vinson’s ultimate departure from the court, certain key Warren Court precedents might have been decided by 5-4 votes in the other direction.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: Fred Vinson, Brown v. Board of Education, segregation, Supreme Court, constitutional history, Chief Justice

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Date posted: January 3, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Larson, Carlton F. W., What If Chief Justice Fred Vinson Had Not Died of a Heart Attack in 1953?: Implications for Brown and Beyond (2011). Indiana Law Review, Vol. 45, p. 131, 2011; UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 283. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1978947

Contact Information

Carlton F. W. Larson (Contact Author)
University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )
Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States

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