Salt of the Earth, Conscience of the Court

The Story of Justice Wiley Rutledge

By John M. Ferren

592 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 56 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1540-0
    Published: January 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7661-9
    Published: March 2006
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7678-2
    Published: March 2006

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Awards & distinctions

2004 Langum Prize for Legal History/Biography

The Kentucky-born son of a Baptist preacher, with an early tendency toward racial prejudice, Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge (1894-1949) became one of the Court's leading liberal activists and an early supporter of racial equality, free speech, and church-state separation. Drawing on more than 160 interviews, John M. Ferren provides a valuable analysis of Rutledge's life and judicial decisionmaking and offers the most comprehensive explanation to date for the Supreme Court nominations of Rutledge, Felix Frankfurter, and William O. Douglas.

Rutledge was known for his compassion and fairness. He opposed discrimination based on gender and poverty and pressed for expanded rights to counsel, due process, and federal review of state criminal convictions. During his brief tenure on the Court (he died following a stroke at age fifty-five), he contributed significantly to enhancing civil liberties and the rights of naturalized citizens and criminal defendants, became the Court's most coherent expositor of the commerce clause, and dissented powerfully from military commission convictions of Japanese generals after World War II. Through an examination of Rutledge's life, Ferren highlights the development of American common law and legal education, the growth of the legal profession and related institutions, and the evolution of the American court system, including the politics of judicial selection.

About the Author

John M. Ferren is a senior judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. He lives with his wife, Linda, in Washington, D.C., and South Bethany, Delaware.
For more information about John M. Ferren, visit the Author Page.


"[A] much-needed and heretofore missing biography of Wiley Rutledge, one of the nine members of the so-called 'Roosevelt Court'. . . . A fascinating narrative of national judicial politics in the 1940s. Highly recommended."--Choice

"In Salt of the Earth, Conscience of the Court: The Story of Justice Wiley Rutledge, John Ferren has crafted an important work--a major contribution to the notably short shelf of outstanding judicial biographies."--H-Law

"Ferren… has written a splendid new biography of Rutledge based on a wide range of archival sources and interviews."--Journal of American History

"Ferren . . . has written a compelling biography, bringing to life the often-overlooked Rutledge, as well as the court and times in which he labored. . . . Ferren's biography is first-rate. . . . An important contribution in reclaiming the lost life of an outstanding justice."--Washington Post

“It may be plain good luck that Ferren has written such a fine book about such a fine judge at this moment, when judicial excellence is at an undeniable premium. . . . It took almost fifty years for Rutledge's biography to emerge, but today is a uniquely valuable time for Rutledge's enduring lessons about judicial role and constitutional values.”--Washington University Law Review

"John Ferren brings the empathy that has characterized his own judicial career to the study of the life of Wiley Rutledge and his contributions to legal education and constitutional law. In this wonderful book, Ferren has rescued and illuminated the hitherto neglected Supreme Court career of a decent man who joined the brawling Court of the 1940s and dedicated himself to the cause of civil liberties--most (but not all) of the time."--Andrew L. Kaufman, Harvard Law School