Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Harlan Fiske Stone
Harlan Fiske Stone "There were precious few who understood and followed the commands and restraints of the Constitution, who supported the essence of limited government, who enhanced the concept of popular government under law, who furthered respect for the Bill of Rights as fully as Stone did." -- Henry J. Abraham

Harlan Fiske Stone (1872–1946)
Law 1898
Faculty 1899-1924
LLD 1925 (hon.)

A Supreme Court Justice for 20 years, Harlan F. Stone was a New Dealer who defended civil liberties and individual rights against a conservative court majority. A core tenet of his legal philosophy was that the law could adapt to changing societal conditions. President Woodrow Wilson appointed him attorney general in 1924 and to the Supreme Court a year later. When the composition of the court began to change after 1937, Stone saw many of his dissenting opinions become majority decisions. In one otherwise obscure case, United States v. Carolene Products Co. (1938), Stone wrote what a later associate justice, Lewis Powell, called "the most celebrated footnote in constitutional law." In it, Stone outlined the circumstances under which the judiciary could interpret the Constitution to displace decisions made by democratic means. The footnote stands as the point of demarcation in the Supreme Court's shift over the next generation toward greater protection of civil rights and liberties. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt elevated the 69-year-old Stone to chief justice. He died after only four years, nine months, and 19 days in the top spot, making his tenure the second shortest of any chief justice.

Stone studied at Columbia Law School after graduating from Amherst College. He was such a brilliant student that he was offered a teaching position at the Law School after graduating in 1898. He accepted the position and simultaneously maintained a private practice. Named dean of the Law School in 1910, he served for 14 years before resigning to join a law firm. As a teacher and as dean, he was known for taking a great interest in his students, who called themselves "Stone-Agers" in his honor. In 1946, the year of Stone's death, the Columbia Law faculty established the Harlan Fiske Stone Scholars. The scholarships are awarded each year in recognition of academic achievement by students in each of the three Law School class years. That same year, the Harlan Fiske Stone professorship in constitutional law was established.

Read more about Stone in the Columbia Encyclopedia.


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