The senior associate judge in the original 5-man Supreme Court of 1788 was John Rutledge (1739-1800). Remember him? Go back to Part 1 to find his bio.
After Rutledge resigned his seat was filled by Thomas Johnson (1732-1819), who was formally nominated on Hallowe’en of 1791 and took office on August 5, 1792.
Thomas Johnson was born to a large family in southern Maryland and taught himself law, gaining entrance to the Maryland bar in 1753 and setting up a law practice in Frederick, Maryland. He eventually entered politics and was elected to the state assembly in 1761. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and manufactured ammunition for the Army during the War of Independence. Johnson was then elected the first Governor of Maryland, serving from 1777 to 1779. He held several judicial and legislative offices through the 1780s and in 1790 was appointed to the federal commission that would plan out the city of Washington, D.C.
Johnson’s major legal claim to fame is that he was the author of the Supreme Court’s first written opinion, 1792’s Georgia v. Brailsford. The case, a minor one involving the repayment of debts to a British creditor, was the first in which a state government participated.
The rigors of travel on the judicial circuit (the Supreme Court originally travelled to cities across the country to hear cases) were too much for a sickly Johnson, and he resigned on January 16, 1793, after only 164 days on the Court, to this day the shortest tenure of any justice of the Supreme Court. It also caused Johnson to turn down an offer to become Secretary of State in 1795. He lived in poor health at his daughter’s home in Frederick for many years and died in October of 1819.
Johnson’s successor was New Jersey’s foremost Father of the Revolution, William Paterson (1745-1806), for whom the city in New Jersey is named. He was nominated on February 27, 1793, quickly de-nominated to avoid a potential conflict-of-interest technicality, re-nominated March 4, and sworn in on the same day.
William Paterson was born in Ireland and came to America at two years old. He graduated from Princeton, got involved in politics, and was one of New Jersey’s signatories to the Declaration of Independence. He was a framer of the New Jersey state constitution and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In America’s first congressional elections Paterson was elected to the Senate as a Federalist; but he resigned in November 1790 to take office as Governor of New Jersey, reigning that office upon succeeding to the Supreme Court.
Paterson’s most significant SCOTUS experience came on circuit duty, where he conducted the trials of farmers indicted in the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. Paterson, although not accomplished in his legal career, held steadfastly to the supremacy of law, and therefore of the courts, over the legislature.
A stagecoach accident in 1803 left Paterson in chronic pain, and took a vacation from the Court in September of 1806 to visit a spa resort in Ballston Springs, New York. On his way there he stopped for the night at his daughter’s home in Albany, and died there.
The vacant seat was filled by H. Brockholst Livingston (1757-1823), nominated by Thomas Jefferson on December 15, 1806, and sworn in on January 16, 1807.
Henry Brockholst Livingston was born in NYC and went to Princeton before joining the Army in the War of Independence, where he served as a lieutenant-colonel on staff to Gen. Philip Schuyler and then as an aide-de-camp to Maj.-Gen. Benedict Arnold during the Battle of Saratoga. Livingston worked as private secretary to John Jay while he was ambassador to Spain, then returned to America and passed the New York bar in 1783. After nine years in private practice he was appointed to the Supreme Court of the State of New York in 1802, serving there until his promotion.
As a justice Livingston was competent but undistinguished, frequently voting the same way as Chief Justice Marshall. He held his seat until his death in March, 1823, in Washington, and was buried in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn.
The seat went to a 3rd straight Princetonian, Smith Thompson (1768-1843), who was nominated by James Monroe on December 5, 1823, and took his seat on the bench on the 9th.
Smith Thompson was born in Armenia, New York, graduated from Princeton in 1788, and practiced law in Troy and Poughkeepsie. He was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York from 1802 to 1814, and chief justice from 1814 to 1818. He served as Secretary of the Navy under James Monroe, where he ensured every sailor received a bible – not surprising, since Thompson was the founding vice-president of the American Bible Society.
During his time on the Court Thompson kept his political ambitions alive and ran for Governor of New York in 1828, but lost. A Democrat, Thompson was a frequent opponent of John Marshall, who was a Federalist. Thompson died in office in December, 1843.
Democratic president John Tyler had a tough time passing a nominee through the Whig-controlled Senate, who rejected John C. Spencer, Reuben Walworth, Edward King and John M. Read before settling on Samuel Nelson (1792-1873), a third straight New Yorker, on Valentine’s Day 1845. He was sworn in the same day.
Samuel Nelson was born in Hebron, New York, studied at Middlebury College in Vermont, and passed the bar in 1817. He became a judge in 1823, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York from 1831 to 1837, and chief justice from 1837 to 1845, the year he ran for the US Senate and lost.
Nelson was approved by the Senate because they believed he would be uncontroversial. He proved them right: in the 27 years he sat on the Supreme Court, Samuel Nelson barley did anything noteworthy at all. He retired on November 28, 1872, and died 13 months later at his home in Cooperstown, New York.
Nelson’s seat was filled by Ward Hunt (1810-1886), another New Yorker, on December 11, 1872, after being nominated by Ulysses Grant on the advice of legendary political boss Sen. Roscoe Conkling.
Ward Hunt was born in Utica and went to Union College in Schenectady. He dabbled in politics while in private practice, serving in the state legislature and as mayor of Utica. He served on the New York Court of Appeals from 1865 to 1870 (Chief Judge from 1868), during which time he became friendly with Conkling.
In the ten years Hunt sat on the Supreme Court he voted with the majority in all but 22 cases – he only ever wrote four dissenting opinions. While on circuit duty in New York in 1873 he presided over the trial of Susan B. Anthony for voting in the elections of 1872, finding her guilty and fining her $100.
In 1878 Hunt suffered a crippling stroke that eventually made him unable to serve. He refused to resign, wanting to tough it out until he would become eligible for his pension. He relented and left in January 1882 after Congress passed an exception for him, and he died in D.C. in March of 1886.
Hunt’s vacant seat was offered to both Sen. Roscoe Conkling and Sen. George Edmunds, who declined, and so it went to Samuel Blatchford (1820-1893), also of New York, who was sworn in on March 22, 1882.
Samuel Blatchford was born in Auburn (in the beautiful Finger Lakes), graduated from Columbia and worked as a secretary to a fellow Auburn native, New York Governor William Seward. He moved to Manhattan in 1854 and built up a career specializing in admiralty law. He received a federal judgeship in 1867 and promoted to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 1878 before President Chester Arthur put him in the Supreme Court.
Blatchford was a shrewd investor and cashed out of the stock market right before the Civil War, making him very wealthy: his personal fortune in 1882 was estimated at US $3 million – over $68 million in today’s money – tied up mostly in real estate. In his spare time he liked to collect salt shakers.
On the Court, Blatchford wrote 420 opinions in 11 years, and only two dissenting opinions. He was an expert in patent law and admiralty law – he co-wrote a book on the subject that was considered one of the most thorough treatises on maritime law – but was criticized for exercising vague and often contradictory viewpoints on the interpretation of the 14th Amendment, especially as they related to due process. Blatchford stayed on the court until his death in the summer of 1893 while on vacation in Newport, Rhode Island.
Grover Cleveland (in his second term) broke the New Yorker streak by appointing Louisiana native Edward White (1845-1921) to the bench, and White was sworn in on February 19, 1894. His 27 years on the bench would contain an historic first: in 1910 he became the first associate justice to be elevated directly to Chief Justice.
Edward Douglass White Jr. was born on his family’s sugarcane plantation in southern Louisiana. His father, Edward Sr., was Governor of Louisiana in the 1830s and a five-term Whig congressman. Edward Jr. studied at the Jesuit College in New Orleans, then at Mt. St. Mary’s College in Maryland before transferring to Georgetown University.
White cut his studies short at Georgetown when he left to fight for the South in the Civil War. His military service during the War of Northern Aggression are filled with conjecture, as White never wrote about his service and the muster rolls for the regiments he is believed to have served in have been lost. What is definitely known is that he was captured as a lieutenant of the 9th Louisiana Cavalry by the Union Army on March 12, 1865, in Pointe Coupee Parish in east-central Louisiana. He was jailed in New Orleans and paroled in April. He made no attempt to hide his Confederate service in his later years: in fact, four justices of the Supreme Court served the Confederate government during the Civil War (three military and one civil).
He then enrolled in what is now Tulane University Law School (then named Louisiana University) and started practicing in New Orleans in 1868. He became involved in public life, was instrumental in dismantling the corrupt state lottery, and served from 1879 to 1880 as an associate justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. He was elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1891 and stayed there until his appointment.
His time as an associate justice of the Supreme Court was uneventful; he sided with the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson and dissented on Lochner v. New York. His major contributions came after his appointment as Chief Justice on December 12, 1910.
Many people at the time questioned why William Howard Taft appointed White, then 65 years old and not in great shape, and a Democrat, instead of fellow Republican Charles Evans Hughes. Future events may point to Taft not wanting the Chief Justice to be around for an especially long time.
The White Court issued opinions which softened somewhat the Lochner and Plessy eras. One of its earliest cases was 1911’s Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States, which was one of the biggest monopolies to be broken apart by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. It also marked the debut of the “Rule of Reason” in deciding anti-trust cases: monopolies not being illegal in and of themselves, but only where they are restrictive to trade. Wilson v. New in 1917 upheld the Adamson Act, which mandated a maximum 8-hour workday for railway employees. Guinn v. United States of 1915 struck down certain laws intended to disenfranchise black voters while making exceptions for white voters. (The laws generally took the form of property or literacy requirements for voting set to prevent blacks from voting; to allow poor/illiterate whites to continue voting, loopholes were written making exemptions for people whose [antebellum-era] grandfathers could vote. These were the original “grandfather clauses”. Needless to say, the states found ways around the Guinn ruling.)
White’s tenure coincided with the First World War, and so it was called upon to rule on the legality of certain wartime measures, almost all of which were allowed: the six Selective Draft Cases of 1918 found conscription was constitutional and Schenck v. United States (1918) allowed for limits on free speech in times of “clear and present danger”.
The Mann Act, passed by Congress in 1910 forbidding the transport of people across state lines for “immoral purposes” as an anti-human trafficking measure, resulted in two important rulings: Hoke v. United States (1913) ruled that although Congress had the power to regulate interstate travel it did not have the power to regulate prostitution, as it was a state power; and Caminetti v. United States (1917) ruled that the Mann Act could be used to prosecute consensual extramarital affairs.
A very important precedent-setting case was 1920’s Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. Untied States, which established the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine: evidence obtained by illegal means is inadmissible in court. Burdick v. United States (1915) ruled that the acceptance of a pardon constitutes an admission of guilt. The oddly-named United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola of 1916 resulted in Congress requiring products to list caffeine content on the label. One of the White Court’s last cases, 1921’s Newberry v. United States, decided the government could not regulate political party primaries.
White died in office on May 19, 1921, and was buried in DC.
William Howard Taft (1857-1930), 27th President of the United States of America, 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, was appointed to succeed Edward White by President Warren Harding on June 30, 1921, and was sworn in on July 11.
William Howard Taft, son of Grant-administration cabinet official Alphonso Taft, was born in Cincinnati and went to Yale. At Yale, he was heavyweight wrestling champion and also joined the Skull and Bones Society. He graduated second in his class in 1878 and then went to Cincinnati Law School, graduating in 1880. He got work as a public official and was appointed a judge of the Superior Court of Cincinnati in 1887. At the age of 32 he was made Solicitor-General of the United States by President Benjamin Harrison, who in March 1892 appointed Taft to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which he served on for almost exactly eight years . Concurrently, between 1896 and 1900 he was dean of law at the University of Cincinnati. He then chaired a commission to organize a civilian government of the newly-won Philippines, and served as its first civilian Governor-General from 1901 to 1903. He was Secretary of War in the second administration of Theodore Roosevelt, dealing with military intervention in Cuba, negotiations to end the Russo-Japanese War, and the construction of the Panama Canal.
Roosevelt groomed Taft as his successor and helped him win the Republican nomination on the first convention ballot, and went on to handily win the 1908 presidential election against William Jennings Bryan, carrying 321 electoral votes and 29 states to Bryan’s 162 votes and 17 states. As President, he reformed the federal budgeting system, supported free immigration, and reorganized the State Department. His administration also saw the statehood of New Mexico and Arizona and appointed five justices and one Chief Justice to the Supreme Court, more than any other besides Washington. His co-operation with Democrats on a failed reciprocity treaty with Canada in 1911 cost him the unity of the Republican Party, however, and the Progressive Party’s nomination of Theodore Roosevelt as president (the famous “Bull Moose” ticket) caused Taft to finish a disappointing third in the election of 1912, losing to Woodrow Wilson.
After losing he lost 80 pounds within a year (he weighed 340 lbs. in 1912) and became a law professor at Yale, and also was elected president of the American Bar Association. He opposed America’s entry into World War I, but once it did he argued for a conclusive defeat of Germany and threw his support behind conscription.
Taft considered his tenure as Chief Justice to be the pinnacle of his career; according to a biographer, he said, “I do not remember that I was ever President.” The sentiment was shared; Justice Felix Frankfurter once remarked, “It is difficult for me to understand why a man who is so good a Chief Justice could have been so bad as President.” Taft was responsible for the modern structure of the federal judiciary, bringing the US federal and territorial courts under direct control of SCOTUS and successfully lobbying for the erection of a new Supreme Court building, as the Supreme Court had been meeting in the Capitol since its inception. A research trip to England caused him to draft the Judiciary Act of 1925, allowing the Supreme Court to pick and choose which appeals it heard, ensuring the most important cases would not be flooded out by lesser suits.
One of the Taft Court’s first major cases was Balzac v. Porto Rico in 1922, which determined that not all rights in the Constitution were guaranteed to residents of US Territories. It was the last of a series of court cases in the Fuller, White and Taft courts over the rights afforded to America’s new possessions in the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico known as the “Insular Cases” (because the territories were under the control of the War Department’s Bureau of Insular Affairs). Also important was 1925’s Carroll v. United States, which found it was constitutional for police to search cars for contraband if they have probable cause. Myers v. United States (1926) agreed the President had the power to unilaterally dismiss Cabinet appointees confirmed by the Senate, United States v. General Electric Co. (1926) found the owner of a patent licensed to a third party had the right to fix prices on that product, and Olmstead v. United States (1928) ruled that the “fruit of the poisoned tree” doctrine regarding evidence did not apply to wiretapping. unfortunately, the anti-labour Lochner era reared up again in 1923’s Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, declaring minimum wage legislation to be unconstitutional.
Ill health caused Taft to retire in February 1930. He died five weeks later on March 8, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetary.
Taft’s successor was former Supreme Court justice Charles Hughes (1862-1948), one of only two justices (other than John Rutledge) to serve two no non-consecutive tenures. He was sworn in on February 13, 1930, after being appointed by Herbert Hoover ten days earlier. In doing so Hoover passed over the greatest judge in American legal history not to serve on the Supreme Court, Learned Hand of the 2nd Circuit. (Judge Hand was a great admirer of Hughes and praised his appointment, though he said his son, Solicitor-General Charles Hughes Jr., was the better lawyer.)
Charles Evans Hughes, Sr. was born in Glens Falls, New York and was a child prodigy, enrolling at Colgate University at 14 and graduating third in his class at Brown at 19. he then went to Columbia Law School in and graduated magna cum laude in 1884. He went into private practice for the next 18 years, except between 1891 and 1893 when he taught at Cornell. He was elected Governor of New York in 1906 and served until he was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1910, where most of the time he voted for regulation and against Lochnerian laissez-faire. He resigned from the Court in 1916 to accept the Republican presidential nomination, but lost to Woodrow Wilson, 254 electoral votes to 277 and 18 states to 30. Hughes then served as Secretary of State under Harding and Coolidge and led the American delegation to the Washington Naval Conference of 1921 on naval arms limitations. The conference led to the signing of the Five-Power Treaty, the Four-Power Treaty, and the Nine-Power Treaty, all of which were cancelled by World War II. After he resigned in 1925 he returned to private practice and a smattering of social activism, sitting on the Permanent Court of International Justice in the Hague from 1928 to 1930 and co-founding the National Conference for Community and Justice in 1927.
Hughes’s legacy as Chief Justice – whose court was the first to occupy the current Supreme Court building, in 1935 – rests on the end of the Lochner era and the Court’s relationship with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Hughes overcame his big-business loyalties and distrust of big bureaucracy to protect civil liberties and the common good. Most of the Court’s early years were dominated by the anti-reform voting bloc of justices James McReynolds, George Sutherland, Willis Van Devanter and Pierce Butler known as the “Four Horsemen”; who, along with swing voter Owen Roberts, declared the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional in 1935 with the case of A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, and did the same to the Agricultural Adjustment Act in United States v. Butler in 1936. By late 1936, Roosevelt was threatening to override the Supreme Court by increasing it to 15 justices, stacking it with liberals. Then, Roberts sided with Hughes and the liberal “Three Musketeers” – justices Louis Brandeis, Harlan Stone and Benjamin Cardozo – in 1937’s West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, which overturned Adkins v. Children’s Hospital and legalized minimum wage legislation. The press would go on to call Roberts’s change of heart “the switch in time that saved nine”. Van Devanter’s retirement and replacement by the liberal Hugo Black later that year would finally put an end to the Lochner era, cemented by its ruling in 1937 on National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, which found that the Wagner Act, protecting collective-bargaining rights, was constitutional.
Other major rulings of the Hughes court included Lucas v. Earl (1930), a landmark tax case determining that income would be taxed on its earner, who could not split it with others (like a spouse) to lessen a tax burden, a rule now known as the “assignment of income doctrine”; Near v. Minnesota (1931), which found pre-publication censorship unconstitutional; Sorrell v. United States (1932), which declared entrapment was a valid criminal defense; Kellogg Co. v. National Biscuit Co. (1938), determining that patent holders had absolutely no claim to exclusivity for their product once patents were expired; United States v. Miller (1939) found that gun control, as a basic concept, did not violate the Second Amendment; and Thornhill v. Alabama (1940) found that picketing counts as free speech.
Hughes retired at the end of June, 1941, and died on vacation at a golf resort on Cape Cod on August 27, 1948. He was buried in the Bronx.
On Hughes’s departure associate justice Harlan Stone became Chief Justice, and the empty seat was filled by Robert Jackson (1892-1954), sworn in on July 11, 1941. He was the last justice to be appointed without a law degree.
Robert Houghwout Jackson was born on his family’s farm in Pennsylvania and raised in Frewsburg, New York. He apprenticed to a law firm in Jamestown, New York, and attended Albany Law School for a year, passing the New York bar in 1913. in 1934 he was appointed general counsel to the IRS, then served as assistant attorney-general to the tax and antitrust divisions of the Department of Justice before being appointed Solicitor-General in 1938 and Attorney-General in 1940, a position he held until coming onto the court.
Jackson was considered an excellent writer and a strong defender of due process against government action. These were combined in his opinion in the 1951 case of Dennis v. United States, where he decided that the teaching of Communist propaganda did not constitute a “clear and present danger” to America.
His time on the Court is also known for two other things: first, that he served as chief US counsel at the Nuremberg Trials; and second, his belief that justice Hugo Black allowed his personal biases to inform his rulings, leading to a feud between the two which may have cost Jackson the chief justiceship.
Jackson died in office on October 9, 1954, and was buried in Frewsburg. A 2005 TV movie on the Nuremberg trials featured Jackson, as played by Alec Baldwin.
President Dwight Eisenhower then appointed John Marshall Harlan II (1899-1971) to the empty seat on January 10, 1955, and was sworn in on March 17.
John Marshall Harlan II, grandson of Supreme Court justice John Marshall Harlan I, was born in Chicago and attended boarding schools in Toronto, then received a Rhodes Scholarship after graduating from Princeton in 1920 and studied law at Balliol College, Oxford, before getting a law degree from New York Law School and passing the bar in 1925. He served as a public prosecutor in New York City on and off throughout the late 1920s and was a successful trial lawyer in the 1930s. During World War II he served as a decorated Colonel in the 8th Army Air Force, heading its Operational Analysis Section. After the war he returned to private practice in corporate and anti-trust law until he was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 1954, then to the Supreme court the following year.
Harlan relied heavily on precedent in his rulings, and believed in the limited role of the judiciary. He was a conservative who strongly supported civil rights, much like his mentor on the Court, Felix Frankfurter. (The prim and demure Harlan was sometimes referred to as “a Frankfurter without mustard”.) His most reactionary stances involved his unwillingness to restrict police powers of interrogation, and dissented from 1966’s Miranda v. Arizona.
Toward the end of his life Harlan’s eyesight deteriorated until he could barely read. He retired in September 1971, and died of spinal cancer on December 29; he was buried in Weston, Connecticut. He donated his personal papers, almost 276 bushels’ worth, to Princeton.
Richard Nixon wanted to replace Harlan with Los Angeles County judge Mildred Lillie, who would have been the first female justice on the Supreme Court; but the ABA rejected her as too inexperienced. Nixon instead nominated William Rehnquist (1924-2005) to be approved by the Senate of December 10 and he was sworn in on January 7, 1972. Rehnquist would be elevated to Chief Justice in 1986; his 33 years on the bench make him the eighth-longest serving Justice of all time.
William Hubbs Rehnquist was born in Milwaukee, with the middle name “Donald”; he changed it on the advice of a numerologist. He attended Kenyon College before he entered the US Army Air Force in1942 to train as a meteorologist, then served as a weather observer in north Africa in the last months of the war. He went to Stanford Law School on the GI Bill and probably graduated first in his class (Stanford officially maintains it did not keep class rankings at the time)in 1952, in the same class as future benchmate Sandra Day O’Connor. he then spent a year as a law clerk to Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson, where a number of memoranda he wrote revealed his dismissal of the need for the Court to protect civil rights or override the racist tendencies of the majority; he later defended himself by claiming they were reflective of the philosophies of Jackson. After leaving Jackson’s employ Rehnquist practiced law in Phoenix , until returning to Washington in 1968 to serve as chief lawyer to the Attorney-General, where he stayed until he entered the Court. Richard Nixon referred to him on the infamous Watergate tapes, repeatedly mistaking his name for “William Renchburg”.
Rehnquist quickly established himself as the most conservative judge on the Court, taking a narrow interpretation of the 14th Amendment and a broad interpretation of executive and state powers. His decisions were stridently anti-federalist, anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action, and pro-business. Despite ideological abrasion with his fellow justices he cultivated warm personal relationships with them, especially with William Brennan, William O. Douglas and Potter Stewart. It was revealed upon his death that Rehnquist was addicted to sedatives through most of the 1970s and detoxed for a month in 1980; none of his colleagues noticed any difference in him beyond a slight slurring in his speech.
Rehnquist was elevated to Chief Justice upon the retirement of Warren Burger in 1986. His relaxed and good-humoured leadership style was in marked contrast to the overbearing Burger. Rehnquist as Chief Justice is best remembered for the eccentricity of adding four gold stripes to each sleeve of his robe in 1995, an aping of the robes of the British Lord Chancellor as seen by Rehnquist in a production of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera “Iolanthe”.
Many of the important cases of the Rehnquist court revolved around stare decisis, wherein the court expressly declined to overrule existing decisions it may otherwise disagree with because it did not want to disturb precedent. 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, for example, upheld Roe v. Wade, which Rehnquist had dissented upon in 1973; 2000’s Dickerson v. United States upheld Miranda v. Arizona of 1966. The Rehnquist Court was also the first court to deal with gay rights, declaring discrimination unconstitutional in Romer v. Evans of 1996 and striking down laws against homosexuality in 2003 in the case of Lawrence v. Texas (Rehnquist dissented on both of them). His Court also famously decided in the 2000 case of Bush v. Gore that George W. Bush won the state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election, thus giving him the presidency.
Other important cases of the Rehnquist Court include Colorado v. Connelly (1986), which found that statements made during a schizophrenic episode are not necessarily completely inadmissible in court; Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Cardoza-Fonseca (1987), which found that asylum applicants needed to provide a “well-founded fear” of persecution; Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), which found teaching creationism in public schools was unconstitutional (but only because it established favouritism with a particular religion); Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell (1988), which found that parody, even if meant to emotionally wound its targets, counts as free speech and not libel; California v. Greenwood (1988), which decided the police don’t need a warrant to search your trash once it leaves your home; Schmuck v. United States (1989), which found that sending licenses or other documents filled in with fraudulent information through the mail could constitute mail fraud (Mr. Schmuck was a used-car dealer who mailed vehicle licenses marked with rolled-back odometer readings; and “schmuck” is also the Yiddish word for “penis”); Hernandez v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (1989), which found that Scientology courses don’t count as charitable deductions; Employment Division v. Smith (1990), which found that freedom of religion doesn’t give you a free pass to take illicit drugs; United States v. Eichman (1990), wherein flag-burning was declared free speech; Barnes v. Glen Theater, Inc. (1991), which decided states have the right to regulate public nudity, and that nudity is not free speech; Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah (1993), which found that freedom of religion can give you a free pass to ritually slaughter animals; Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., Inc. (1995), which found that colours can be trademarked; Bailey v. United States (1995), which established that “using” a gun in a crime means shooting it, not just having it with you; Clinton v. Jones (1997), which declared that the President isn’t immune from all civil lawsuits (meaning Paula Jones could sue Bill Clinton); Vacco v. Quill (1997), which found states could outlaw assisted suicide; Swidler & Berlin v. United States (1998), which found attorney-client privilege still exists if the client is dead; City of Chicago v. Morales (1999), which decided that a law cannot be so vague that a reasonable person could not discern between legal and illegal activity (and specifically, that loitering is not a “gang activity”); Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000), which decided the right to free association meant that private clubs could exclude groups that effectively contradict the group’s points of advocacy; Atkins v. Virginia (2002), which decided you can’t execute the mentally retarded; and MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. (2005), which found a product claiming to make it easy to infringe copyright could be found liable for inciting copyright infringement.
In October 2004 it was announced Rehnquist was suffering from thyroid cancer. He was absent from the public eye for several months, returning briefly for the inauguration of George W. Bush in January 2005 before returning to the Court in late March. He died in office at his home in Arlington on September 3 of that year and buried in Arlington National Cemetary.
At the time of Rehnquist’s death George W. Bush had already nominated John Roberts (1955-present) to replace the outgoing Sandra Day O’Connor; he changed the appointment and the Senate confirmed Roberts as Chief Justice on September 29, 2005, and was sworn in on the same day.
John Glover Roberts was born in Buffalo and grew up in northern Indiana. He got a bachelor’s in history from Harvard and in 1979 got a doctorate in law while editing the Harvard Law Review. He spent a year clerking for William Rehnquist and then serves as associate White House counsel under Ronald Reagan. He was Principal Deputy Solicitor-General for all the George Bush Sr. administration and went into private practice during the Clinton administration. In 2003, he was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and stayed there until he entered the Court.
Associate justice Antonin Scalia has said that Roberts “pretty much runs the show the same way” as Rehnquist, and the two men share a similar conservative bent. Roberts’s most controversial action has been to be the deciding vote on 2012’s National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, which found Obamacare to be constitutional. Overall, the Court’s most controversial ruling was in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, wherein it found that corporations spending money on election campaigns counted as free speech.
Currently, the Court is deciding the cases of Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, both of which are examining same-sex marriage. However they turn out, they promise to be pivotal decisions in the Court’s history.