Supreme Court Trivia

Careers Away from the Court

Which chief justices were associate justices before their elevation to the top post?

There have been five associate justices who later ascended to the post of chief justice. They are John Rutledge, Edward White, Charles Evans Hughes, Harlan Fiske Stone, and William Rehnquist. Rutledge served as associate justice from February 15, 1790 (the first date the Court ever met), to March 5, 1791, when he resigned to serve as chief judge of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas. President George Washington then appointed Rutledge to the position of chief justice in August 1795. Washington made a recess appointment, meaning an appointment is made when the Senate is not in session. The nominee can take his or her seat but must be confirmed to remain on the bench. Rutledge served for only a few months as chief justice because the Senate rejected his nomination 15–10 in December 1795. White served as an associate justice from 1894 to 1910. President William Howard Taft nominated him for chief justice in 1910 and he served in that capacity until his death in 1921. Hughes served as an associate justice from 1910 to 1916. He resigned to run for president but lost to Woodrow Wilson. President Herbert Hoover then nominated Hughes for chief justice, a position he served from 1930 to 1941. Stone served as associate justice from 1925 until 1941. Then, President Franklin D. Roosevelt elevated Stone to chief justice in 1941, where he served until his death in 1946. Rehnquist served as an associate justice from 1972 to 1986, when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to serve as the nation’s sixteenth chief justice, a post in which he remained until his death in 2005.


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