The court presided over the country during the start of the Cold War and the Korean War. The court's decisions reflected the continuing ideological battle between the judicial restraint of Justice Felix Frankfurter and the civil rights activism of Justices William O. Douglas and Hugo Black. Frankfurter's more conservative views prevailed during the Vinson Court, but many of the dissents written during the Vinson Court would lay the groundwork for the major rulings during the succeeding Warren Court.
The short tenure of the Vinson Court gave it relatively little time to render major rulings, but decisions of the court include:
Everson v. Board of Education (1947): In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Black, the court upheld a New Jersey law that provided for transportation reimbursement for children attending private schools. The court unanimously incorporated the Establishment Clause via the Fourteenth Amendment, but the majority held that the New Jersey law did not violate the Establishment Clause because the reimbursements were provided to all parents regardless of religion.
McCollum v. Board of Education (1948): In an 8-1 decision written by Justice Black, the court struck down an Illinois program that used public school classrooms to teach voluntary religion classes during school hours. The court held that the classes violated the Establishment Clause.
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952): In a 6-3 decision written by Justice Black and in which five justices wrote concurrences, the court ordered President Truman to return control of several steel mills to their owners. Truman had taken control of the mills after the 1952 steel strike, which presented a threat to the American effort in the Korean War. The large number of concurrences made the precedential value of the ruling unclear, but the ruling nonetheless checked the executive power of the president. Justice Jackson's concurring opinion laid out three categories of executive power and made a lasting impact in the understanding of separation of powers.
Vinson took office at a time when the court was divided into two camps: a progressive camp led by Justices Black and Douglas, and a more conservative camp led by Justices Jackson and Frankfurter. President Roosevelt had appointed justices who would uphold the more expansive economic regulations of the New Deal (thus ending the Lochner era), but the same Roosevelt appointees often split on civil liberties cases. The Truman appointees, who had executive or legislative branch experience and were reluctant to strike down government powers at the dawn of the Cold War, largely took the side of Jackson and Frankfurter. Justices Rutledge and Murphy were part of the more liberal bloc prior to their death, while Burton and Reed tended to side with Frankfurter and Jackson. The court thus took a more conservative position than the Stone Court (particularly after 1949), which often struck down laws for conflicting with civil liberties. However, the views of Black and Douglas generally won out in the succeeding Warren Court, and their dissents in Vinson Court cases such as Dennis helped lay the foundation for many of the Warren Court holdings. On his death, The New York Times credited Vinson for soothing the tensions between the two blocs of justices, but legal historian Michal Belknap argues that Vinson was largely unsuccessful in this endeavor.