CHARLOTTE, NC, February 1, 2017 – Being that today is February Fool’s Day and Donald Trump has named his first choice for the Supreme Court, it will serve us well to provide some interesting trivial facts about the highest court in the land.
From History.com, the Judiciary Act of 1789 is passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington, establishing the Supreme Court of the United States as a tribunal made up of six justices who were to serve on the court until death or retirement.
The first session of the Court convened in 1790, and since the United States was in its infancy, the practice of justices wearing wigs was still the custom.
When the court met, Justice William Cushing was the only judge who arrived wearing the wig he had worn while serving on the Massachusetts bench.
Justice Cushing received so much teasing from non-members that the custom was immediately discontinued following Thomas Jefferson’s remark:
“For heaven’s sake, discard the monstrous wig which makes the English judges took like rats peeping through bunches of oakum.”
The Supreme Court had no docket and made no decisions in 1790. When the capital was moved to Washington, D.C. in 1800, there wasn’t even a courtroom.
Congress provided a small chamber in the basement of the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court met there until the Civil War.
Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller initiated the tradition of the “conference handshake” in the late 1800s. Before being seated, each judge shakes hands with the others as a reminder that their opinions might differ but they share a common purpose.
Justice William O. Douglas served the longest tenure at 36 years and six months before retiring in 1975. John Rutledge was the shortest at a mere four months. He was appointed Chief Justice but was forced to step down when his nomination was rejected by the Senate.
The only Supreme Court justice who was impeached was Samuel Chase in 1805. The charges were dismissed due to political motivations. Some things never change.
Playing the numbers game, George Washington, as might be expected, appointed the most justices with 11. Not surprisingly, Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only president who comes close to Washington with nine appointments.
The reason being that FDR was re-elected three times which can no longer happen since the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution limits a president to two terms.
There have been two justices images featured on United States currency: Salmon P. Chase was pictured on the $10,000 bill and John Marshall was on the $500 bill until he was replaced by William McKinley. In 1969 denominations of such sizes were discontinued.
William H. Taft has two places in Supreme Court trivia. He was the only president who also served as a Supreme Court justice.
Perhaps even more amazing, Taft’s six appointments are the most ever by a one-term president.
Jimmy Carter makes up for Taft however, because the peanut farmer from Georgia is the only president in history to serve a full term without making a Supreme Court appointment.
As for age, the youngest member of the Supreme Court was Joseph Story at 32.
The oldest sitting justice was Oliver Wendell Holmes who served until he was 90.
Wrapping things up for Super Bowl Sunday, Justice Byron “Whizzer” White is the only justice who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
By the way, in case you were ever curious, a 2004 study of the Supreme Court found that former Justice Antonin Scalia was the most humorous member of the court getting 77 rounds of laughter during oral arguments that year.
Justice Stephen Breyer was runner-up with 45, but poor old Clarence Thomas finished dead last without a single chuckle.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
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Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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