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Post Chief Justices Who Were Never Associate Justices
Created by John Eipper on 10/28/21 4:50 AM

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Chief Justices Who Were Never Associate Justices (David Duggan, USA, 10/28/21 4:50 am)

Defining "modern times" as my lifetime (nearly 70 years), there have been five Chief Justices of the Supreme Court: Fred Vinson (1946-53), Earl Warren (1953-69), Warren Burger (1969-86), William Rehnquist (1986-2005) and now John Roberts.

Four of them had never sat on the Court before: Vinson, Warren, Burger and Roberts. That's a pretty high average. Indeed, when Rehnquist was nominated, he observed that it was unusual for a 58 year-old to be given a new job, and that the record of associate justices elevated to the chiefdom was at best mixed: old animosities die hard (e.g., Harlan Stone whom by folklore William O. Douglas detested and Felix Frankfurter thought was a moron). Going back a bit, Charles Evans Hughes was nominated to be CJ in 1930, 14 years after he had resigned from the Court to run for president against Woodrow Wilson.

Notable first-timers to the Court as the CJ include John Marshall (1801-35), Roger Taney (1836-64), and Dartmouth grad Salmon P. Chase (1864-73). If there's any unifying theme to being named CJ out of the box it is having had a political career apart from the judiciary: Secretary of State (Marshall; Hughes); Secretary of the Treasury (Chase, Taney [recess], and Vinson); or governor (Warren, Chase). Both Marshall and Vinson had been Congressmen and Chase a Senator.

And of course, the first CJ, John Jay had to be appointed without prior service, since the Court didn't exist before the Constitution.

JE comments:  Rehnquist threw me off on my assumptions.  Promoting from within is actually the exception, not the rule.  David Duggan points out a trait in human psychology that applies across the board (even to the US Supreme Court):  seeing a colleague become your superior is a formula for resentment.


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