HISTORY/Past Justices

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Notable Past Justices

A total of 108 justices have served on the Supreme Court since its inception in 1789. There have been 16 chief justices. Several members of the court became great figures in history or were distinguished for contributions beyond their court service.

The following four chief justices are among those who greatly shaped the course of the American judiciary and the nation's overall progress:

John Marshall (served 1801-1835, chief justice)
Often called "the great chief justice," Marshall was instrumental in establishing the court's authority in the national government. During his tenure, the court began issuing single majority opinions, enabling it to speak with a more definitive, unified voice. Rulings during this era bolstered federal power over states. Marshall wrote the 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison, which established judicial review of laws passed by Congress.

Charles Evans Hughes (1910-1916, associate justice; 1930-1941, chief justice)
He presided over the court during the Great Depression and the New Deal era. Known as a master of consensus, he guided the court in its transformation from opposing much of the New Deal legislation to acceptance of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's programs for a new national economy.
William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft  

William Howard Taft (1921-1930, chief justice)
The only person to serve both as president (1909-1913) and a justice, Taft was appointed chief justice by President Warren G. Harding. As chief, Taft is remembered more for innovations in judicial administration than for a substantive legal agenda. He successfully pressed Congress to pass laws that gave the court almost unlimited discretion to decide which cases it will hear.

Earl Warren (chief justice, 1953-1969)
A former California governor, Warren, though appointed by Republican President Eisenhower, took a decidedly liberal course in a socially stormy era. His legacy includes decisions forbidding school segregation, fairer mapping of voting districts and enhancing rights of defendants in criminal trials.

Notable "Firsts" Among Justices (names link to biographies):

The first justice: John Jay (1789-1795).
The first Roman Catholic justice: Roger Taney (1836-1864).
The first Jewish justice: Louis Brandeis (1916-1939).
The first African American justice: Thurgood Marshall (1967-1991).
The first female justice: Sandra Day O'Connor (1981).

Two Justices of Dubious Distinction:

Samuel Chase (1796-1811) was the only justice impeached by the House of Representatives. The outspoken Federalist was accused of bias and other judicial misconduct by the House but was acquitted by the Senate.

Abe Fortas (1965-69) was the only justice to resign under pressure. He was being accused of financial irregularities for funds he received in extrajudicial activities.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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