Happy Presidents’ Day. The other night, while reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent book Team of Rivals, I started thinking about the connection between Presidents and Supreme Court justices. Not in the typical nomination/confirmation situation, but more about persons who aspired to one, or both, positions. So many past presidents have been lawyers. And, as our readers almost certainly know, one past president–William Howard Taft–also served on the Supreme Court. But, did you know that John Quincy Adams, before he became president, turned down a nomination to the Supreme Court?
Our history also contains at least two would-be presidents who ultimately ended up on the Court. Salmon P. Chase, who very much aspired to the presidency, was later appointed by President Lincoln to be Chief Justice upon the death of Roger Taney. Chief Justice Chase then presided over the first impeachment trial of a sitting president–the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Ironically, a justice by a very similar name, Justice Samuel Chase, was the first Supreme Court justice to be impeached. Chief Justice Earl Warren is another example of someone with presidential aspirations who ended up on the high court.
Prof. William Ross at Cumberland Law has actually written a law review article on the presidential aspirations of Supreme Court justices (I am pretty sad now that I can’t write this article). In addition to Chase and Warren, he mentions Justices McLean, Field, Miller, Davis, Nelson, Hughes, Jackson, Black, and Douglas. Prof. Ross lists other justices who were mentioned as possible candidates, but who didn’t seem to encourage the attention.
Perhaps President Biden will follow this trend and appoint to the Court a lawyer/politician with presidential aspirations. There are several in his party who would be great choices.