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I started searching for Supreme Court nominations toward the end of my internship. As of last summer, most nominations were stored safely in metal drawers (that’s all I’ll say) and organized according to Sessions of Congress. I would use this site to learn the exact date of a nomination, though the Senate’s own web site turned out to be wrong on that point about a fifth of the time. One afternoon I wanted to locate the Robert Jackson, James Byrnes, and Harlan Stone nominations (all of which occurred on the same day–June 12, 1941). I pulled one of the drawers for the 77th Congress, 1st Session. As was my practice, I looked through every message in the drawer, not just the ones I was expecting to find.

About twenty nominations before Jackson, Byrnes, and Stone was the one you see above. The John S. McCain promoted to Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy was the grandfather of Senator John McCain, who’s actually John S. McCain III. Senator McCain’s own father entered the submarine service after graduating from Annapolis in 1931, which accounts for the Senator’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone five years later.

My instinct is that nominations from this period were numbered (see the top-right corner) contemporaneously with their being filled out, though I can’t say the same about Marshall’s Chief Justice nomination and those surrounding it. The numbering seems to have been done in the “Naval Office,” as both markings are in pencil. What I can’t figure out is why the promotions were slated to take effect before the message’s handwritten date of May 26, 1941. I do know that May 26, 1941 and 194-1 were the operative date and number for situating this message chronologically vis-à-vis all others from the 77th Congress, 1st Session.

FDR’s signature wasn’t on this page, so I won’t apologize for cutting it off. Here’s something else to ponder: The nominations continued apace while FDR was diplomatizing in Casablanca, Quebec, Cairo, Tehran, and Yalta. “His” last nomination–on White House stationery, of course–occurred on April 12, 1945, the day he died. (He was in Warm Springs, GA at the time.) Many of the signatures clearly aren’t FDR’s. The suspect ones are all distinct, too–these aren’t autopen jobs. I suppose the Constitution doesn’t actually require the president to sign his nominations, though…

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