Charles Evans Whittaker
|Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States|
March 22, 1957 - March 31, 1962
|Dwight D. Eisenhower|
|Stanley Forman Reed|
|Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit|
June 5, 1956 - March 24, 1957
|Dwight D. Eisenhower|
|John Caskie Collet|
|Marion Charles Matthes|
|Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri|
July 8, 1954 - June 21, 1956
|Dwight D. Eisenhower|
|Albert L. Reeves|
|Randle Jasper Smith|
Charles Evans Whittaker
February 22, 1901
|Died||November 26, 1973 (aged 72)|
Kansas City, Missouri
|Education||Kansas City School of Law (LLB)|
Charles Evans Whittaker (February 22, 1901 - November 26, 1973) was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1957 to 1962. After working in private practice in Kansas City, Missouri, he was nominated for the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Whittaker to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In 1957, he won confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States, thus becoming the first individual to serve as a judge on a federal district court, a federal court of appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. During his brief tenure on the Warren Court, Whittaker emerged as a swing vote. In 1962, he suffered a nervous breakdown and resigned from the Court. After leaving the Supreme Court, he served as chief counsel to General Motors and frequently criticized the Civil Rights Movement and the Warren Court.
Whittaker was born on a farm near Troy, Kansas to Charles Edward Whittaker, a farmer, and Ida Eve Miller, a schoolteacher from Hagerstown, Maryland. He attended the nearby one-room Brush Creek School, and then the Troy High School until he dropped out in the ninth grade after his mother died on his sixteenth birthday. He spent the next three years working on a family farm, and also hunting and trapping. Whittaker developed an interest in law by reading newspaper articles about criminal trials. In the summer of 1920, he applied to the part-time evening program at the Kansas City School of Law (currently the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law) and gained admission with the condition that he would finish his high school education after personally pleading with Oliver Dean, a president of the law school. Immediately, he enrolled at Manual High School in Kansas City, Missouri. He spent the next four years working during the day to support himself, and in the evenings was taking high school courses as well as classes at the Kansas City School of Law. While Whittaker was a student at the school, future President Harry S. Truman was a classmate. Whittaker graduated in the class of 1924 with a Bachelor of Laws having been admitted to the Missouri bar during his senior year. Whittaker joined the law firm of Watson, Ess, Marshall & Enggas in Kansas City, Missouri, where he previously worked full-time as an office boy, and built up a practice in corporate law with the Union Pacific Railroad, Montgomery Ward, and the City National Bank and Trust Company among his clients. He developed close ties to the Republican Party.
Whittaker was nominated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on May 11, 1954, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri vacated by Judge Albert L. Reeves. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 7, 1954, and received his commission the next day. His service terminated on June 21, 1956, due to his elevation to the Eighth Circuit.
Whittaker was nominated by President Eisenhower on March 16, 1956, to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated by Judge John Caskie Collet. He was confirmed by the Senate on June 4, 1956, and received his commission the next day. His service terminated on March 24, 1957, due to his elevation to the Supreme Court.
Whittaker was nominated by President Eisenhower on March 2, 1957, to a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States vacated by Associate Justice Stanley Forman Reed. He was confirmed by the Senate on March 19, 1957, received his commission on March 22, 1957, and took the oath on March 25, 1957. Whittaker thus became the first person to serve as a judge of a United States District Court, a United States Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Samuel Blatchford also served at all three levels of the federal judiciary, but the court system was configured slightly differently at that time. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the most recent Justice to have served in all three levels of the federal judiciary. Whittaker was one of the four Republicans appointed to the court by Eisenhower (along with Earl Warren, John M. Harlan II, and Potter Stewart). Eisenhower appointed one Democrat, William J. Brennan, to the Court. Whittaker served as Circuit Justice of the Eighth Circuit and the Tenth Circuit for his duration of service on the Supreme Court. He assumed senior status due to a certified disability on March 31, 1962. His service terminated on September 30, 1965, due to his resignation.
On the closely divided Supreme Court, Whittaker was a swing vote. According to Professor Howard Ball, Whittaker was an "extremely weak, vacillating justice" who was "courted by the two cliques on the Court because his vote was generally up in the air and typically went to the group that made the last, but not necessarily the best, argument." Whittaker failed to develop a consistent judicial philosophy and reportedly felt himself not as qualified as some of the other members of the court. After agonizing deeply for months over his vote in Baker v. Carr, a landmark reapportionment case, Whittaker suffered a nervous breakdown in the spring of 1962. At the behest of Chief Justice Earl Warren, Whittaker recused himself from the case and retired from the Court effective March 31, 1962, citing exhaustion from the heavy workload and stress.
Effective September 30, 1965, Whittaker resigned his position as a retired Justice in order to become chief counsel to General Motors. He also became a resolute critic of the Warren Court as well as the Civil Rights Movement, characterizing the civil disobedience of the type practiced by Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers as lawless. He wrote a piece for the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin that advised protesters to use courts instead of taking to the streets. Whittaker died on November 26, 1973 at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri of a ruptured abdominal aneurysm.
In 1928, Whittaker married Winifred R. Pugh. They had three sons: Dr. Charles Keith Whittaker, a neurosurgeon; Kent E. Whittaker, an attorney; and Gary T. Whittaker, a stockbroker.
The federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, which houses the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, is named in memory of Whittaker.