The Taft Court (1921–30)


Why was Taft considered a great judicial administrator?

There are many reasons why historians and scholars consider Taft, who was a relatively ineffective president, a great judicial administrator, if not a great chief justice. Taft modernized and improved the U.S. Supreme Court in many ways during his tenure as chief justice. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in her book The Majesty of the Law (2003) that there is “another great Chief Justice … who perhaps deserves almost as much as credit as [John] Marshall for the Court’s modern-day role but who does not often get the recognition: William Howard Taft.”

Among his many accomplishments, Taft successfully lobbied Congress for eighteen new judgeships, receiving twenty-four; he spearheaded the movement for a conference of senior federal judges that was the predecessor to the present-day Judicial Conference of the United States; he lobbied for the Judiciary Act of 1925, which gave the Court greater flexibility in shaping its own docket; and he successfully petitioned Congress for the creation of a new location for the U.S. Supreme Court, a building that was built in 1935 and that houses the present-day Court.

Taft also lobbied for the creation of uniform federal rules of civil procedure, which—like the U.S. Supreme Court building—was realized after his death. In 1934, Congress passed the Rules Enabling Act, which gave the U.S. Supreme Court the authority to promulgate uniform rules for lower federal trial courts.

Still others praise Taft for his ability to get his fellow justices to agree on matters. More than 80 percent of the opinions during Taft’s reign were unanimous, an astonishingly high rate.


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