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Our History: Featured Alumni/ae: Reed, Stanley F., 1908

Over the decades our graduates have developed distinguished careers as justices, members of Congress, ambassadors, educators, business people, and community leaders in many fields. This site features some of those late graduates.

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Stanley Forman Reed

U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Stanley Reed was born in Minerva, Kentucky in 1884 and attended Kentucky Wesleyan College, where he received a B.A. in 1902. He then attended Yale University as an undergraduate, and obtained a second B.A. in 1906. He studied law at the University of Virginia and Columbia University, but did not obtain a law degree. In 1909 he traveled to France and studied at the Sorbonne, where he obtained his auditeur bénévole. After his studies in France, Reed returned to Kentucky. He was admitted to the bar in 1910 and established a legal practice in Maysville. He was elected to the Kentucky General Assembly in 1912 and served two two-year terms. After the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Reed enlisted in the U.S. Army and was commissioned a lieutenant. When the war ended in 1918, he returned to his private law practice and became a well-known corporate attorney, and his work on behalf of large agricultural interests eventually brought him to the attention of federal officials. Although Reed was a Democrat, his reputation as a corporate agricultural lawyer led President Hoover to appoint him the new general counsel of the Federal Farm Board in 1929, a position he held until 1932.

Reed then became general counsel of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, where he influenced the creation of the Commodity Credit Corporation as well as providing crucial legal support to President Roosevelt’s new gold policies. In 1935, Reed became Solicitor General of the United States at a time when several of FDR’s New Deal programs were being challenged in the high courts. As a result, Reed once argued six major cases before the Supreme Court in a two-week period. Although Reed lost several of these early cases, by 1937 he secured major victories in several cases, including the Supreme Court’s upholding of minimum wage laws, the National Labor Relations Act, and the taxation power of the Social Security Act. President Roosevelt then nominated Reed to the Supreme Court, where he was seated in January 1938. Stanley Reed spent nineteen years on the Supreme Court, much of it alongside his mentor, Felix Frankfurter, and his protégé, Robert H. Jackson. Reed was a key figure in several decisions related to civil rights, including Smith v. Allwright (1944), Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946), Sweatt v. Painter (1950), and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). Reed gained further fame for his testimony in the 1949 trial of Alger Hiss, his former protégé from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

Stanley Reed retired from the Supreme Court on February 25, 1957, citing old age. That same year President Eisenhower requested that Reed chair the newly-formed United States Commission on Civil Rights, but Reed turned down the nomination. For several years, he served as a temporary judge on a number of lower federal courts, particularly in the District of Columbia. He also served in special capacities where judicial experience was needed, such as boundary disputes between states. Reed died in 1980 and is currently the longest-lived Supreme Court Justice in American history. He was also the last serving Supreme Court Justice who had not graduated from law school. 

Stanley F. Reed Collection, 1926-1977, at University of Kentucky

Stanley F. Reed Oral History Project

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