I saw this document on the second day of my internship, during my first visit to the Vault. Never has an orientation gone so well.
Not all six inaugural SCOTUS nominees served. Robert Harrison declined the honor in order to retain his position as Chancellor of Maryland. John Rutledge accepted and was granted his commission, but he never bothered to travel north for a session of the Court. He resigned in 1791 in order to become Chief Justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas. He hadn’t heard a single case in spite of nearly two years of “service.” (This was remedied four years later when Rutledge was Washington’s chosen recess appointee following Chief Justice Jay’s resignation.)
Presidents Taft and FDR each made three Supreme Court nominations on a single day, but six is a record that surely will never be surpassed. Washington also sent more Supreme Court nominations to the Senate and had more nominees confirmed than any other president in history.
Henry Abraham has identified seven criteria for potential Supreme Court nominees that Washington adhered to “predictably and religiously: (1) support and advocacy of the Constitution; (2) distinguished service in the Revolution; (3) active participation in the political life of state or nation; (4) prior judicial experience on lower tribunals; (5) either a ‘favorable reputation with his fellows’ or personal ties with Washington himself; (6) geographic suitability; (7) love of our country.”
I didn’t notice until… a few minutes ago, really, that on this same sheet of paper, Washington nominated the very first class of district judges, attorneys, and marshals. A cluster of obscure figures, surely, who didn’t land the top gig? I thought the primary excitement would end along with my internship, but as it turns out, none other than John Marshall was appointed to be U.S. Attorney for Virginia. How historically delicious that his name appears merely inches below those of Jay, Rutledge, Wilson, Cushing, Harrison, and Blair! (For this reason, I also love how “marshals” is spelled “marshalls” on the document, even though it’s spelled “marshals” in the Judiciary Act of 1789.) The list of district-judge and DA nominees is replete with somebodies: Francis Hopkinson (Declaration signer), Gunning Bedford (Constitution signer), Thomas Johnson (soon to be Justice Johnson), Edmund Pendleton (a giant in his native Virginia), and Thomas Pinckney (known today for his diplomatic service in England), among others.