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Letter to Justice Frankfurter Upon His Retirement From the Supreme Court

August 29, 1962

[Released August 29, 1962. Dated August 28, 1962]

My dear Mr. Justice Frankfurter:

Your retirement from regular active service on the Supreme Court ends a long and illustrious chapter in your life, and I understand well how hard a choice you have made. Along with all your host of friends I have followed with admiration your gallant and determined recovery, and I have shared the general hope that you would return soon to the Court's labors. From my own visit I know of your undiminished spirit and your still contagious zest for life. That you now take the judgment of the doctors and set it sternly against your own demanding standard of judicial effectiveness is characteristic, but it comes as an immediate disappointment.

Still, if you will allow it, I will say that there is also consolation in your decision. I believe it good for you as well as for the rest of us that you should now be free, in reflective leisure, for activities that are impossible in the demanding life of a Justice of the Supreme Court. You have been part of American public life for well over half a century. What you have learned of the meaning of our country is reflected, of course, in many hundreds of opinions, in thousands of your students, and in dozens of books and articles. But you have a very great deal still to tell us, and therefore I am glad to know that the doctors are telling you, in effect, not to retire, but only to turn to a new line of work, with new promise of service to the Nation.

Meanwhile, I should like to offer to Mrs. Frankfurter and to you, for myself and for all Americans, our respectful gratitude for the character, courage, learning and judicial dedication with which you have served your country over the last twenty-three years.



Note: Justice Frankfurter's letter of resignation, dated August 28, 1962, follows:

My dear Mr. President:

Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. [Sec.] 371(b), 68 Stat. 12, I hereby retire at the close of this day from regular active service as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The occasion for my retirement arises from the affliction which I unexpectedly suffered last April. Since then I have undergone substantial improvement. High expectations were earlier expressed by my doctors that I would be able to resume my judicial duties with the beginning of the next Term of the Court, commencing October 1. However, they now advise me that the stepped-up therapy essential to that end involves hazards which might jeopardize the useful years they anticipate still lie ahead for me.

The Court should not enter its new Term with uncertainty as to whether I might later be able to return to unrestricted duty. To retain my seat on the basis of a diminished work schedule would not comport with my own philosophy or with the demands of the business of the Court. I am thus left with no choice but to regard my period of active service on the Court as having run its course.

I need hardly tell you, Mr. President, of the reluctance with which I leave the institution whose concerns have been the absorbing interest of my life. May I again convey to you my gratitude for your call upon me during the summer and for the solicitude you were kind enough to express.

With high respect and esteem,

Faithfully yours,


Justice Frankfurter served as Justice of the Supreme Court from January 20, 1939, through August 28, 1962.

On Justice Frankfurter's 80th birthday, November 5, the President sent a message of congratulations, stating, "You seem to be the same age as Eamon de Valera, to whom I was writing only the other day. He was born in New York and conquered Ireland, while you seem to have reversed the process by starting in Vienna and taking charge of the constitutional traditions of the United States." The President added, "I trust that your mind is beginning to turn to the claims of history. It is fair for me to press these claims upon you, because I have thought a good deal about your own advice on the same general topic."

John F. Kennedy, Letter to Justice Frankfurter Upon His Retirement From the Supreme Court Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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