Whittaker, Charles Evans
(b. Troy, Kans., 22 Feb. 1901; d. Kansas City, Mo., 26 Nov. 1973; interred Calvary Cemetery, Kansas City), associate justice, 1957–1962. Charles E. Whittaker grew up on a farm, the son of Charles and Ida Miller Whittaker. In 1920, before completing high school, he enrolled at the University of Kansas City Law School. He joined the bar in 1923 while still in school and was graduated the next year. While in law school he began working for a law firm, Watson, Gage & Ess; he continued to practice with that firm until his appointment to the federal bench in 1954. Whittaker was primarily a litigator although he also did corporate work, and his firm’s clients included Kansas City as well as national corporations. Except for his Missouri state bar activities, Justice Whittaker was largely uninvolved in social or political work.
In 1954 Whittaker’s position as a leader of the corporate bar in Kansas City brought him to the attention of U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, who was looking for a nominee for the U.S. District Court in Missouri. Ordinarily such an appointment would have been made on the recommendation of a senator of the same party as the president. Both senators from Missouri were Democrats, however, which accounted for the heightened participation of the Republican White House in filling the judgeship. Whittaker served on the district court from 6 July 1954 until 22 July 1956, when the Senate confirmed him judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Early in 1957, Justice Stanley Reed retired. President Dwight Eisenhower, who had a predilection for appointing justices from among the ranks of sitting judges, nominated Justice Whittaker, apparently on the strong urging of Herbert Brownell.
During Justice Whittaker’s brief tenure on the Court, he joined the majority in a large number of 5-to-4 decisions. Whittaker was usually a conservative, although occasionally he would join in an opinion protecting a particularized individual right against government encroachment. His own opinions were undistinguished and failed to reflect a consistent judicial philosophy. Perhaps his most notable opinion was Staub v. City of Baxley (1958), in which the Court held (7 to 2) that a city ordinance requiring a permit for union soliciting was unconstitutional because of the discretion given to the city officials.
Physically exhausted, he retired on the advice of his physician effective 1 April 1962. Unlike other retired justices, he devoted himself to private legal interests rather than to judicial or public service.
Eric A. Chiappinelli