Fred M. Vinson Jr. (1965-1969)
Early History: Frederick Moore Vinson, Jr. was born in 1925 in Louisa, Kentucky, to a prominent political family. His father, Fred M. Vinson, served in all three branches of government, including as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Vinson Jr. entered the Army Air Forces after high school and served three years during World War II as a B-29 gunner. Mr. Vinson then attended Washington and Lee University, where he earned undergraduate and law degrees, starred for the baseball team, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif. Mr. Vinson spent his first years of law practice in “general and trial practice,” culminating in partnership with the law firm of Reasoner, Davis, & Vinson.
Tenure: In 1965—after fourteen years of law practice—Mr. Vinson was appointed the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. In a 1968 interview, Mr. Vinson explained that he took a significant pay cut to serve in this position, as the annual salary was only $27,000. When asked why he took the position to lead the then-170 lawyers in the Criminal Division, Mr. Vinson said, “I think that everybody owes their country some services. . . . It’s a very satisfying thing, I think, to feel that you can make and are making a contribution, no matter how small it might seem in the big picture.”
During his tenure as Assistant Attorney General, Mr. Vinson oversaw a number of high-profile matters. He successfully defended before the U.S. Supreme Court the jury-tampering conviction of former Teamster President James R. Hoffa, handled the extradition of James Earl Ray, and supported the Johnson administration’s controversial opposition to antiriot legislation and the so-called “get-tough” crime legislation for the District of Columbia.
Later Career: In 1969, Mr. Vinson returned to practice at his former firm. He served as the president of the D.C. Bar Association from 1971 to 1972 and in the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates from 1971 to 1974. Mr. Vinson was also chairman of the board of trustees of the D.C. Public Defenders Service from 1976 to 1978.
Mr. Vinson passed away in 1982, at the age of 57.
This material is based on the review of a variety of historical sources and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. If you have any corrections or additional information about this individual or about the history of the Criminal Division, please contact the Division.