Precedents

July 11, 1921

Taft Becomes Chief Justice

Posted Jul 1, 2009 6:50 PM CDT
By George Hodak

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Of America’s 26 lawyer-presidents, William Howard Taft is the only chief executive to serve as chief justice of the United States. Warren G. Harding nominated him nearly a decade after Taft’s unsuc­cess­ful bid for a second presidential term. The Senate confirmed him the very same day.

Taft (shown at his swearing-in) had long coveted the post. He was well-suited for it, having served as a federal judge, solicitor general and constitutional law professor at Yale University, his alma mater. He wrote 249 opinions during his eight-year stint on the high court, but his most enduring legacy may be ju­dicial reform.

Taft helped create what became the Judicial Conference of the United States and was instru­­mental in passage of the Judiciary Act of 1925, which shifted most appellate jurisdiction to the lower federal courts and established the certiorari process governing appeals to the nation’s highest tribunal. He resigned in February 1930 and died a month later, the same day as Associate Justice Edward Sanford. He’s one of two presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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