Justice Rutledge was born in Cloverport, Kentucky, but spent much of his childhood in Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. He attended Maryville College in Tennessee for two years before transferring to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he earned a B.A. in 1914. He then taught at a high school while attending Indiana University Law School part time, and went on to earn an LL.B. from the University of Colorado Law School in 1922.
Justice Rutledge entered private practice in Boulder, Colorado immediately upon graduation. He ceased working as a private attorney when he became an associate professor of law at his law school alma mater in 1924. In 1926, Justice Rutledge left the University of Colorado to be a professor of law at Washington University School of Law, where he later served as acting Dean, 1930-1931, and then Dean, 1931-1935. He subsequently became a professor of law and Dean of State University of Iowa College of Law, located in the state from which he would be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, where he remained until 1939, when he was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Justice Rutledge remained there until his elevation to the SCUS, which may have been facilitated at least in part by the solidly liberal voting record he developed while serving on the DC Circuit.
Justice Rutledge was nominated by President Roosevelt on January 11, 1943, to a seat vacated by Justice James F. Byrnes. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 8, 1943, and received his commission three days later. Justice Rutledge took the Judicial Oath to officially join the SCUS on February 15, and served on the Stone and Vinson Courts. His service was terminated on September 10, 1949, due to his death.
Justice Rutledge is not especially well known today, and he was not particularly influential while serving on the SCUS, despite retaining the consistent liberalism he showed on the lower court. His limited impact on the SCUS is perhaps mostly a function of the brevity of his tenure, which was cut short by his early death.