Edward Fitzgerald (Ed) McFaddin (1894–1982)

Edward Fitzgerald McFaddin was a lawyer who for twenty-four years was a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, where he always anchored the conservative wing. After retiring from the court, McFaddin led the opposition to the proposed constitution of 1970, a set of constitutional reforms that voters defeated in the general election that year. He challenged nearly all the changes proposed in the new charter, claiming that it would raise taxes, increase government, and do away with sacred customs. Both of the candidates for governor in that election, Winthrop Rockefeller and Dale Bumpers, had urged voters to ratify it, to no avail.

Ed McFaddin was born on December 30, 1894, in Hope (Hempstead County), the son of Edward McFaddin and Mary Somervella McFaddin. He received a bachelor’s degree at Hardin Simmons College in Abilene, Texas, in 1913, and a law degree at the University of Texas in Austin in 1916. He joined the U.S. Army when the United States entered World War I, trained as an infantry captain at Fort Logan Roots in North Little Rock (Pulaski County), and sailed for Europe from New York City on the SS Corona in September 1918 as the Central Powers were collapsing across Europe. He returned to finish his education and received a Master of Laws degree at Columbia University in New York City in 1920. He practiced law in Hope until his election to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1942 after the retirement of Justice Tom M. Mehaffy.

He married Matilda McCammon of Hope, and they had three children.

All the years that McFaddin was on the court, he was often on the dissenting side, and his opinions were filled with precedential citations. He rarely wanted to break new ground. When the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1954’s monumental decision Brown vs. Board of Education that segregated public schools violated the U.S. Constitution, McFaddin thought the unanimous court had flouted, not implemented, the U.S. Constitution, and he repeatedly found occasions to say so in the segregation cases that began to reach the Arkansas court after the 1957 desegregation crisis at Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

In a spate of lawsuits arising from Governor Orval Faubus’s actions at Central High and the Arkansas General Assembly’s enactment of laws punishing advocates of integration and building walls against it, McFaddin joined all the other justices, or most of them, in upholding the statutes. But in two of the most important cases, he came down forcefully on the other side, even while expressing his disdain for the civil rights movement.

After the legislature, with Governor Faubus’s support, enacted Act 4 at a special session in 1958 to empower the governor to close public schools if he thought there was a risk to public safety and if the city’s voters voted to close them, the city’s high schools were closed for the 1958–59 school year. A suit was filed challenging the law’s constitutionality. The Arkansas Supreme Court, in Garrett v. Faubus (1959), upheld the law by a vote of four to three. Three majority opinions—by Paul Ward, Sam Robinson, and Chief Justice Carleton Harris—strongly defended the law as a legitimate use of the state’s police powers.

McFaddin’s long dissent, with a score of citations from federal and state appellate decisions, demolished all their points. Typical of McFaddin, he began by condemning the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation in the schools. He described the Brown decision as “most unfortunate” because it “upset social conditions that had existed in the South from the beginning of the American Union.” He continued: “…there began in the Southern States, of which Arkansas is proud to be a part, a determined and never-to-be-ended campaign to prevent racial integration in the public schools.”

That campaign, McFaddin then observed, produced Act 4, which he said flagrantly violated both the state and federal constitutions. Although he cited numerous precedents, only one, he said, really needed to be mentioned—the first sentence of the education article of the Arkansas Constitution of 1874: “Intelligence and virtue being the safeguards of liberty and the bulwark of a free and good government, the State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free schools whereby all persons in the State between the ages of six and twenty-one years may receive gratuitous instruction.” Arguments about safety in the face of integration were merely subterfuge, McFaddin argued. The constitution’s words “shall ever maintain” must be interpreted to mean exactly that. By not nullifying the governor’s school-closing proclamation, he said, the Arkansas Supreme Court was saying that protections in the state constitution were meaningless.

After siding with the segregationists and most of his colleagues on upholding other segregation statutes from 1958 and 1959 (McFaddin wrote a particularly tough majority opinion in Daisy Bates v. City of Little Rock and Birdie Williams v. City of North Little Rock upholding the so-called Bennett ordinances (named for Attorney General Bruce Bennett) that encouraged cities to fine advocates of integration like the NAACP and its officers), McFaddin switched sides and wrote the majority opinion in another case involving four Bennett segregation acts. This time, he wrote that the acts were unconstitutional. His reasoning was that the U.S. Supreme Court obviously would declare the laws unconstitutional if the state court did not. A special justice, former congressman Boyd Tackett of Texarkana (Miller County), and the firebrand segregationist Justice Jim Johnson signed a stinging dissent that attacked both the U.S. Supreme Court and their colleagues who joined McFaddin’s opinion.

When his third term was expiring in 1966, McFaddin retired, and he and his wife lived in Little Rock. His last public effort was the campaign against a new constitution in 1970.

He died on July 18, 1982, and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Hope.

For additional information:
“Former Justice Dies; Served For 24 Years.” Arkansas Gazette, July 19, 1982, p. 7A.

“In Memoriam: Edward F. McFaddin.” Arkansas Lawyer (April 1983): 94.

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 04/07/2022

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