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President George Washington’s message nominating John Rutledge as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, December 10, 1795

John Rutledge served as chief justice for five-and-a-half months before Congress reconvened. President George Washington then sent a list of nominees for various federal offices to the Senate for its consent. At the top of the list was John Rutledge of South Carolina, Washington’s candidate for chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

George Washington’s message nominating John Rutledge as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, December 10, 1795 George Washington’s message nominating John Rutledge as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, December 10, 1795 George Washington’s message nominating John Rutledge as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, December 10, 1795 George Washington’s message nominating John Rutledge as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, December 10, 1795

The Senate Rejects a Chief Justice

While Congress was in recess in 1795, President George Washington appointed a successor to resigning Chief Justice John Jay. Washington chose John Rutledge, who sought the position and had briefly served as an associate justice. Before the Senate reconvened, Rutledge made a speech harshly criticizing Jay and the president. When the Senate met to exercise its power of advice and consent, it rejected Rutledge because of his political activity. It was the Senate’s first rejection of a Supreme Court nominee.

Presidential appointments of Supreme Court justices require the Senate’s advice and consent. The Senate withheld its consent to a Supreme Court nomination for the first time in 1795.