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John Rutledge, oil painting, 1889

U.S. Supreme Court Collection, Supreme Court Archives and Museum

John Rutledge, oil painting, 1889

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.