Harlan Fiske Stone and Lee Harvey Oswald - The Warren Commission was a Fraud

Publication Politics

For the 1957 Pulitzer Prize in biography, the advisory committee recommended Harlan Fiske Stone, Pillar of the Law by Alpheus T. Mason. Mason was a legal scholar at Princeton University. His tome on Stone, 802 pages of small type with many footnotes and few photographs, was the crown jewel of a lifetime of legal scholarship.

Harlan Fiske Stone was the first dean of Columbia Law School. President Calvin Coolidge appointed him Attorney General in the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal. Appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Stone wrote the dissents as the court struck down Roosevelt's New Deal legislation.

So in the late 1930's, when the composition of the court changed, it was Stone's legal thinking that became law. Stone was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court just in time for World War II, and dropped dead of a heart attack in 1946.

A man of extraordinary probity, Stone's life illustrates the strictures of being a supreme court justice. His only permitted outside interests and positions held were as a member of a wine appreciation society and as a member of the board of the Smithsonian Institution. All other activities could possibly have become a conflict of interest should certain legal matters come before the court. After reading Harlan Fiske Stone, Pillar of the Law, the idea of a Supreme Court Justice, or a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, sitting on an extra judicial commission to investigate the assassination of a president is so absurd as to be laughable.

A giant of a man portrayed in a giant of a book, Mason's biography needed to win the Pulitzer Prize in order to be read. But Mason's book and Stone's life never got the attention they deserved because Harlan Fiske Stone, Pillar of the Law did not win the Pulitzer Prize. Instead, New York Times columnist and Kennedy family friend Arthur Krock lobbied the Trustees of Columbia University, who actually award the Pulitzer Prize, to overrule their own advisory committee and give the award to Profiles In Courage instead.

Profiles In Courage is a 150 page book of big type and many pictures about 8 Senators, only one of which was popularly elected. Winning the Pulitzer prize for a book that was actually written by Ted Sorenson (who received half the royalties), was clearly intended to give Kennedy the intellectual cache necessary for a presidential campaign.

The Intellectual Consequences

Giving the Pulitzer to a ghost written campaign book instead of to a book of quintessential legal scholarship has had a distorting effect on history. Mason's biography of Stone explains how Congressional hostility to Oliver Wendell Holmes's liberalism was one of the major causes of the Great Depression.

As the depression deepened in the 1930's, the long serving justices could see that their outdated doctrines were not solving the serious economic problems facing the country. According to Mason, because the Supreme Court depends largely on precedents, these men would have had to reverse themselves. So, many wanted to resign from the court.

But they were scared. Federal Judges are required to retire at the age of 70 and then receive a pension. But Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. After the liberal Oliver Wendell Holmes resigned from the bench, Congress, in a fit of pique, cut his pension to show their disapproval with his decisions. Stone's colleagues on the Supreme Court during the 1930's were similarly fearful that, if they resigned to make way for new justices and a new philosophy, that Congress would try to blame them for the depression and slash their pensions in punishment. Most of the justices could not afford to take the financial risk, so they stuck it out.

Another major intellectual consequence of the quashing of Harlan Fiske Stone, Pillar of the Law, is that people accept the Warren Commission as legitimate. No one could read Mason's Harlan Fiske Stone, Pillar of the Law without coming to the opposite conclusion. No reputable justice or chief justice could sit on an extra judicial commission to investigate the murder of the president. Inevitably, should anyone have come to trial, many of the issues of evidence and discovery would have certainly come before the Supreme Court. By killing Lee Harvey Oswald live on national television, Jack Ruby ensured that no trial would ever take place.

Criminal investigations are the responsibility of the executive. The Warren Commission was composed of people from the House of Representatives, the Senate of the United States, the CIA and the judiciary. In other words, everyone except the professionally constituted criminal investigatory bodies.

Subsequent historical events provide other evidence that the Warren Commission was a fraud. Gerald Ford, who served on the commission, became the first president in American History to be directly appointed by Congress, because of the presidential succession constitutional amendments approved in the wake of Kennedy's assassination. Of course, these amendments were sold to the American public as a means to replace the president or vice-president in the event they became disabled. But they were used as political tools to replace the highest elected officials in the event they became politically disgraced. And it's no coincidence that the son of the man Ford appointed to be Director of Central Intelligence, himself became president and now his son is a major party candidate for president.

If someone said, I know a country where the president was assassinated and one of the members of the commission to investigate the assassination was appointed president, and the man the appointed president appointed director of the CIA also became president, and now the CIA director's son is a candidate for president. But he's running against the son of a senator, so that's ok. Would anyone call this a democratic country?

It is ironic that Kennedy's unethical acts of taking credit for a ghost written book and using his influence to get it the Pulitzer Prize were the proximate causes for the historical distortions that permitted most people to accept the Warren Commission as a legitimate body.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf