Saturday, July 2, 2016

Harding Taps Taft For High Court—Part 2

William Howard Taft takes the oath of office as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Since leaving the White House Taft had dropped nearly 100 pounds.

Taft had not particularly relished being President.  Except for the sense of personal humiliation involved in being rejected by voters and challenged by his former sponsor for the job, Theodore Roosevelt which split the Republican Party and made Woodrow Wilson’s 1912 victory inevitable, Taft was not unhappy to say goodbye to the Executive Mansion.  He had other fish to fry and carried in his heart the fondest hope that a Republican restoration might eventually lead to his dream job as Chief Justice.  And now, a non-entity like Harding was giving him that job not because of his legal wisdom but as a reward for bringing his faction of Ohio Republicans to reluctant support for the former Marion newspaper editor and party functionary.
Taft was the scion of an influential political family from Cincinnati.  A hard working rather than naturally brilliant student he went to Yale and joined the secret Skull and Bones Society, known even then as a close knit brotherhood which advanced the careers of members through a complex, multi-generational web of influence. Graduating second in his class, Taft returned home to study law at Cincinnati Law School read law at his father’s law firm—a double legal education that prepared him to sail through the state bar exam.
 Young Bill Taft certainly climbed rapidly both in his law career and in politics.  He was appointed to a local judgeship in his mid twenties, By the age of 32 he was first put forward as a possible Supreme Court nominee by Ohio Governor Joseph B. Foraker.   Benjamin Harrison was impressed with Taft, but thought him too young.  Instead he appointed him as Solicitor General, the nation’s top trial lawyer who argued the government’s cases before the Supreme Court.  He won 15 of the 18 cases he argued.
But Taft yearned to return to the bench and on a career path that would have him hearing cases, not arguing them.  Then in 1891 Harrison appointed Taft to a newly created extra judgeship in the U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals based in his home town of Cincinnati.  Taft took his seat in March 1892 and served for the next eight years, which he considered the happiest of his life.  Taft presided over Federal trials from the district encompassing all or parts of Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee and sat with John Marshall Harlan, the Circuit Justice from the Supreme Court on three judge appeals panels.
Although generally conservative, Taft proved to be more progressive than most Republican jurists in a few areas.  Significantly he was not always hostile to Labor, and generally supported worker’s rights to unionize and to strike and ruled against employers in several cases in which flagrant negligence was the direct cause of injury or death.  Traditional court opinions had held that the implied contract made between a worker and employer was an acceptance of the risk inherit in the job upon acceptance of a job offer.  The Supreme Court overturned Taft for that opinion.  
Taft as a young judge.
In the important case of United States v. Addyston Pipe and Steel Co. he upheld the application of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to the pipe companies market cornering shenanigans which revived the use of that act which had become nearly moribund for lack of enforcement.  After being unanimously upheld by the high court, the Sherman Act became the prime tool of the Trust Busting wing of the Republican Party, loudly led by Theodore Roosevelt.
Although as a sitting jurist Taft could not directly engage in politics, his private opinions carried great weight in the upper circles of the GOP.  He was not an early supporter of his state’s governor, William McKinley as he jockeyed for position to seize the Republican Presidential nomination in 1896 and only a lukewarm supporter during the general election against Free Silver Democrat and Populist William Jennings Bryan, who he considered a dangerous radical.  Perhaps that is why despite the fact that he was publicly acknowledged as the leading contender for the next opening on the court McKinley passed him over for the only appointment he lived to make in favor of loyalist Joseph McKenna.
But in 1900 McKinley summoned Taft to Washington.  Hoping that the meeting was about an expected Supreme Court vacancy, Taft was at first disappointed when the President asked him to join a commission to prepare the Philippines, recently snatched from Spain, for eventual self-government.  McKinley may have been interested mainly in getting a prominent potential party rival out of the country.  Taft was disappointed but intrigued.  He made a counter offer—he would go, but only a the empowered chair of the commission with clear authority, administration support, and the willingness to personally accept credit or blame for the success or failure of the mission,
Taft and his wife Helen set sail for the distant islands in March of 1900.  On arrival he found a population bitterly resentful of the American occupation, and suffering under the iron fisted virtual dictatorship of Military Governor and occupation Army commander General Arthur MacArthur (yup, the Daddy of that other General MacArthur who was so prominent in Filipino history.  The Army brought with it a racist contempt of the brown islanders and had imposed colonial social segregation between White American military and Navy personnel, and the missionaries and merchants who were swarming over the islands.
MacArthur and his Army had largely crushed both a nationalist insurrection by the U.S.’s erstwhile allies against Spain and fought a brutal campaign against Islamic Moro tribesmen on some of the remote southern islands.  But the natives who craved independence, not just a swap of imperial masters, remained sullenly restive.
MacArthur was resentful and distrustful of Taft’s commission, which he believed was a slap at his authority and was naïve in promoting self-government and democratic values on the natives.  He interfered with the Commission in every way possible.  Taft fought a skillful year-long bureaucratic battle in Manila and Washington for control of the Philippines’ future.  It was a testimony to his skills as inside fighter that the powerful MacArthur, perhaps to most popular General in the Army, was recalled as Military Governor and Taft was put in his place as a civilian governor, with authority over American troops on July 4, 1901.
Two months later McKinley was assassinated  in Buffalo, New York and his “wild cowboyVice President Theodore Roosevelt took over.  Luckily for Taft, he had friendly relations with Roosevelt dating all the way back to his days as Solicitor General when T.R.  was a member of the Federal Civil Service commission.  Taft was impressed by Roosevelt’s intellect and boundless energy and had been the one that recommended him for appointment as Assistant Secretary of State.  The new President was thus willing to leave Taft in place and vigorously back his efforts.
Taft’s first job was a charm offensive to win over the locals, or at least the local elite.  He banned segregation and ordered that government services, accommodations like hotels, restaurants, and saloons be opened to Yankees and Filipinos equally.  He even applied the order to military posts.  He insisted on treating the natives as social equals and Helen welcomed them into her home for mixed dinner parties, teas, balls, and entertainments.  He also instituted educational reforms that included civic lessons in democratic government and kept an official eye on the most rapacious of the merchants and wildcat business promoters out to fleece the natives.

Governor William Howard Taft poses on a water buffalo in the Philippines.

Taft also favored land reform that would give the large class of rural peasants a stake in a stable government through ownership of their own plots.  But vast swaths of the best land were under the ownership and control of European Catholic religious orders and ruled over with feudal authority by autocratic mostly Spanish clergy.  They refused all offers to sell their land so that the peasants who lived and worked on it could be effectively liberated.
In January of 1902 Taft was in Washington for medical treatment of infections he had picked up in Manilla.  He outlined his land reform plans and explained the obstacles to Roosevelt who was so enthusiastic that he ordered Taft to go to the Vatican to negotiate the purchase of the Church lands from the Pope.
The negotiations were difficult in two ways.  Roosevelt wanted to include the withdrawal of the Spanish priests and their replacement with American orders who would also be responsible for much of Filipino education.  This was a shocking demand in that many of the Spanish orders had been entrenched in the islands for hundreds of years.  Secondly, Taft was already one of the most well known American Unitarian laymen and the Unitarians had a long history of intense hostility to Catholicism.  Anti-Catholic screeds were still regularly published by the denominational press and anti-papist sermons were a staple of many a Sunday morning.  In addition, the Republican Party had largely wed itself to evangelical Protestantism leaving big cities and areas with large Catholic immigrant populations in the hands of Democrats.
Taft himself did not personally share the rabid anti-Catholicism of many Unitarians.  He was not a New England Yankee and did not share the ancient tribal enmity to the largely Irish Catholic populations that swarmed Boston and other old Eastern cities.  Instead he came out of more tolerant western Unitarianism and grew up in a city with a huge, orderly, and loyally Republican German Catholic population.  In the Philippines, he was sympathetic and supportive of Protestant missionary work but was careful to honor many Catholic privileges and traditions.
The negotiations were as difficult as Taft had expected.  He was not able to come home with an agreement. But he had planted a seed.  The Pope did sign an agreement on basically the terms proposed in 1903 which was seen as a bid for better relations with the U.S. and its rapidly expanding Catholic population.
Roosevelt remained impressed with Taft.  After his return from Rome in 1902, he offered Taft his long sought for seat on the Supreme Court upon the imminent retirement of Justice George Shiras.  But Taft felt his work in the Philippines was not yet complete and felt duty bound to return to Manilla.  It was painful decision for him.  But the personal sacrifice only raised him in Roosevelt’s opinion.
Meanwhile Taft’s work in the Philippines was attracting attention in the national press with was publishing highly laudatory articles about him.  For the first time Taft was becoming a nationally recognized figure.  In 1903 Secretary of War Elihu Root expressed a desire to resign.  Roosevelt offer the job to Taft, who again demurred citing unfinished work in the islands.  The President pointed out that since the War Department had primary authority over the Philippines that he would still be able to be intimately involved in its affairs.  Root agree to stay on through the end of the year to give Taft time to wind up his work in Manilla.  Taft sailed home to take the job in January of 1904.
In addition to overseeing the military affairs of the Department, Roosevelt quickly came to rely on Taft as his closest Cabinet advisor, relying on him for legal advice and his political acumen.  In addition, the President assigned him as a troubleshooter to a number of special tasks, most of them dealing with foreign policy and dealing the America’s new status as a colonial power.  Taft and the War Department were given the task of overseeing Roosevelt’s crowning achievement—the construction of the Panama Canal. 
After Presidential elections in Cuba, the only prize of the Spanish American War to have been granted independence, devolved into chaos amid charges of Election Fraud, Taft personally traveled to the island with a small military force and exercised the U.S. rights of intervention contained in the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations of 1903. He declared himself Provisional Governor as he tried to calm the political situation and resolve it in the interests of the US.  While proclaiming that the U.S. was interested in stability rather than a renewed occupation, the threat of just such an outcome was obvious.  When he believed he had straightened out the mess, he resigned from his brief two week tenure as governor and turned transition to Cuban civilian self rule over to another temporary governor, Charles Edward Magoon.
Roosevelt, always a man of action, was impressed with Taft’s boldness in taking personal control. 

As Secretary of War, Taft returned to the Philippines to open the first Philippine Assembly in 1907.  The American obsession with its flag must have been a reminder of just how far from real self rule the islands were.
He made two more journeys to the Philippines to mark milestones in the establishment of limited self-government, including the inauguration of the Philippine Assembly in 1907.  On both trips he went on to visit Japan where he extracted a formal declaration that Japan was not interested in the Philippines and would not invade it in exchange for a U.S. hand-off policy on the Japanese occupation of Korea.  On the second trip he also got an agreement from the government to issue few exit visas to the U.S,--a sensitive issue on the West Coast where fear of the Yellow Peril and resentment of Asian workers competing for jobs was endemic. 
Aside from these accomplishments, Taft became an invaluable political asset to Roosevelt.  During the 1904 election, he became of Teddy’s most important surrogates effectively defending the administration from growing criticism by a noisy group of anti-imperialist intellectuals including Jane Addams, Felix Adler, John Dewey, Finnely Peter Dunn, Henry James, and Mark Twain. 
Roosevelt was tempted to run for a third term but in 1907 reluctantly concluded that he must abide by the informal two term limit in force since George Washington.  Eager to maintain his political legacy publicly anointed Taft as his handpicked successor.  During this period the President dutifully, as he had promised, offered Taft appointments to fill the vacancies of two Supreme Court seats.  Once again Taft’s sense of loyalty and his recognition of his value to the President caused him to turn down the opportunities.  He held out hope that elderly Chief Justice Melville Fuller would vacate the seat and provide the opportunity to he could not deny.  But Fuller stubbornly lived on and refused to resign.  Taft reluctantly accepted that he was the likely next President.

With Roosevelt’s backing, Taft easily gained the Republican nomination on the first ballot and coasted to an Electoral College landslide.  Roosevelt left the country for a year-long African Safari partly to give his successor some elbow room.  But he was convinced that Taft would continue all of the policies he had laid out in his term and retain most Roosevelt loyalists in the Cabinet and other positions.  But Taft, while loyal to his close friend, was determined to manage his own administration.  He only retained two Roosevelt’s Cabinet members, for instance.  And where Roosevelt had often acted by executive order, the legalistic Taft hoped to pursue the same or similar policies by legislation—always more difficult to get through Congress than action by executive fiat.  Roosevelt began to believe that this was not aggressive enough.
The two had collaborated most closely on foreign affairs and management of the American empire.  Taft had always expressed general support of Roosevelt’s progressive agenda, so T.R. may not have noticed the more conservative and cautious aspects of his successor’s character.
Roosevelt assumed Taft would simply carry on his policies.
Things began to go south between them over Roosevelt’s pet issueconservation.   Taft replaced Roosevelt favorite James R. Garfield with more pro-development former Seattle Mayor Richard A. Ballenger as Secretary of the Interior.  Ballenger signed off on proposed coal mining leases in pristine Alaskan wilderness and Taft approved them.  Conservation hero Gifford Pinchot helped publicize claims that Ballenger had served as a lawyer for the lease claimant on two occasions between terms of public service, a classic conflict of interest.  Although Taft dismissed Ballenger after receiving a report confirming the charges, the popular Pinchot went outside channels to publicly attack the President for not acting sooner.  Taft had no choice but to fire the popular Forester, who immediately left the country to sell his tale of war to Roosevelt.  Louis Brandeis, the attorney for Louis Glavis, the Land Office Agent who had first revealed the scandal, proved that Taft had received the damning report well before he said he had inferring that the President’s first instincts were to protect his appointment Ballenger.  Taft was deeply embarrassed by the incident.  Roosevelt was enraged and returned to the state to publicly denounce his former protégé.
Other issues acerbated the rapidly growing estrangement.  There were tiffs over tariff policy, a perennial landmine in American politics.  Taft reversed Roosevelt’s policy of refusing to remove Black political appointees holding jobs like local postmasters when white residents objected.  Taft’s policy of deferring to local “racial sensitivities” resulted in the removal of almost all southern Black political appointees, the final blow of Jim Crow against the remnants of Reconstruction era reforms. 
Taft got to make six appointments to his beloved Supreme Court, the most since the earliest days of the Court by George Washington.  Only Franklyn Roosevelt who was elected to four terms would appoint more.  Thus he had a chance to remake the Court into a more progressive body than its traditional conservatism.  But his first appointment was to a former colleague from the Sixth Circuit Court, 65 year old Hoarse A. Luttin of Georgia, a Democrat and ex-Confederate.  His next appointment was patrician New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes as an associate justice with hints that he might be elevated to Chief Justice should that position become vacant.  But when it did he elevated Associate Justice Edward Douglas White, an older candidate.  To take White’s seat he tapped Federal Appeals Judge Willis Van Devanter of Wyoming.  His final two appointments were another Southern Democrat, Joseph R. Lamar of Louisiana and Chancellor of New Jersey Mahlon Pitney, the last person appointed to the High Court without attending law school.  Pitney also had a strong anti-labor record.  In the end Taft created a court even more conservative than ever, if such a thing was possible.
As far as Taft was concerned the final break with Roosevelt came 1910 when Roosevelt gave a speech proposing that the right of the Supreme Court to declare a law enacted by a state unconstitutional be.  This was in criticism of a decision that Taft himself also opposed Lochner v. New York which held that a New York law limiting the hours a baker could work each week was a violation of the liberty of contract, the same issue that the Court had overturned Taft’s ruling in a case about hours in the steel pipe industry.  Despite common disdain for the ruling, Taft was appalled that Roosevelt would attack the independence of the Court and try to limit its checks and balances power.  He decided that Roosevelt had become a dangerous radical who must be stopped.  When the former President announced his plans to seek the Republican nomination in 1912, Taft decided not to withdraw his candidacy for re-election even though it inevitably would split the Party.
Roosevelt dominated in primary states and Taft controlled the Party apparatus that delivered most of the delegates of caucus and convention states.  Taft’s forces came to the Republican National Convention with enough support for a first ballot victory.  But Roosevelt’s forces challenged several delegations, especially from the South, and presented alternate slates of delegates.  When Taft ally and Convention Chair Elihu Root ruled against the challenges, the Roosevelt delegates bolted the convention.  Shortly after Roosevelt announced his candidacy and the creation of the Progressive Party, more popularly known as the Bull Moose Party.

The press in America and around the world had a field day over the falling out of Roosevelt and Taft and their bitter, doomed fight for the Presidency.

Taft realized that his chances of re-election were doomed, but determined to press forward as the Republican standard bearer both for the sake of the party and to prevent the election of Roosevelt even if it meant the victory of Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the former President of Princeton and Governor of New Jersey.  In the end he succeeded at that goal even though he finished third in the popular vote and won only Vermont and Utah and only 8 electoral votes, the worst showing by an incumbent President in U.S. history.  Wilson was only able to garner about 43% of the popular vote but because of the Republican split took an astounding 83% of the Electoral College.
Taft left the White House almost broke by middle class standards.  He had forgone a possible lucrative private practice of law for years of public service at relatively modest salaries.  He could not return to practicing law because he was associated with or had appointed too many judges on the Federal level who it would be unethical to practice before.  He got a position as a Kent Professor of Law and Legal History at Yale.  He also made money as a speaker.  He worked on a grand treatise on the Presidency, Our Chief Magistrate and His Powers published in 1916.
Taft had plenty of time for other interests.  He was made President of the Lincoln Memorial Society while still in office, but out of office took an active role in financing and overseeing the construction of the Washington, D.C. monument which he helped dedicate with Robert Todd Lincoln and President Harding in 1922.  He served a one year term as President of the American Bar Association in 1913 where he took delight in purging leading Progressives, particularly Louis Brandeis, from leadership roles. 
Taft also threw himself into Unitarian lay leadership roles.  In 1909 the regular attender of services at Washington’s All Souls Unitarian Church for many years founded and elected first President of the Unitarian Layman’s League.  Now with more time, he became President of the General Conference of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Churches, the denominational body made up of Unitarian congregations, in 1915 and chaired their biennial conferences until 1925. He also served as a Vice-president of the American Unitarian Association, the older denominational body made up of individual members which recognized Unitarian clergy; published newspapers, tracts, and books; and supported domestic and foreign missionary activity.  He was the fifth and final Unitarian President not counting Barack Obama who was raised in a Unitarian Universalist Church as a child but left the faith as an adult.  The others were Thomas Jefferson (philosophical unitarian not affiliated with a church), John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Millard Fillmore.
Taft was also interested in promoting an old Unitarian idea—“the brotherhood of nations, the Commonwealth of Man” as President of the League to Enforce Peace which promoted an international association of nations to prevent war.  His successor Woodrow Wilson was also interested in a similar idea and Taft invited him to address a congress of the League, beginning a period of growing collaboration between the two men.  Most of the main figures of the League were pacifists.  Many assumed Taft was also, especially when he made public speeches against American involvement in the European war after 1914.  He did not endorse the Democrat for re-election in 1916 when Wilson was running on the popular slogan “He kept us out of war,” but helped persuade his friend Charles Evans Hughes to resign from the Supreme Court to accept the Republican nomination.  Hughes also took a non-intervention stance.  After Wilson narrowly won re-election, Taft resumed friendly cooperation with him.

President Woodrow Wilson an Taft with the American Red Cross Emergency War Council at the White House.  Taft's close collaboration with the Democrat during the war and post-war support of the League of Nations alienated many conservative Republicans which left him few allies in his party since the Progressives despised him.
When America entered the war in 1917, Taft, and ardent patriot, pivoted on a dime and became a devoted supporter of the war effort.  He offered his services to Wilson who encouraged him to make national unity speeches as part of his effective national propaganda campaign.  Taft denounced pacifism and savaged those who clung to it, sounding more like Teddy Roosevelt himself than his own pre-war self.
Taft gave active support to the war effort as Chairman of the American Red Cross Executive Committee, steering that organization into support for the troops with bandage rolling campaigns and sock drives at home and volunteer services to the troops in France.  He also accepted an appointment as Co-chairman of the National War Labor Board which took a hard line stance against war time strikes and moved harshly against unions like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) which refused to cooperate.
Taft’s newfound zealotry for the war effort came to a head at the 1917 meeting of the General Conference of Unitarian Churches in Montreal when the Reverend John Haynes Holmes, the highly respected progressive minister of the Church of the Messiah in New York City, offered a mildly worded resolution supporting the freedom of conscience of pacifist ministers, Taft left the Chair to deliver a thunderous denunciation of Holmes and all pacifist ministers.  He then rammed through a resolution calling for an end to all denominational support for any congregations that allowed pacifism or any criticism of the war to be preached.  After the Conference, wearing his other hat at the AUA, Taft revoked the recognition of dozens of pacifist ministers forcing almost all of them out of their pulpits.  Holmes kept his only by resigning his fellowship with the AUA and leading his church out of the General Conference.
Holmes went on to create the community church movement and finally reconciled with Unitarianism in the 1930’s.  He has been accepted as something of a Unitarian saint and a leader in swinging the faith into an activist mode on peace and social justice issues.   As Holmes’s reputation grew, Taft’s wartime bellicosity looked more and more like bullying and despite his years of service came to be regarded as something of villain to modern U.U.s.   If he has not sunk quite so low in reputation as Millard Fillmore, the only 20th Century Unitarian President is seldom boasted about.
At war’s end Taft happily embraced Wilson’s League of Nations, which seemed to be the fulfillment of his old dream.  But his vocal public support alienated him from most of the Republican Party which saw the League as a threat to U.S. sovereignty and independence.  He was publicly attacked as a tool of the Democrats because of his close relationship with Wilson.  Taft privately concluded that even if the Republicans won back the White House in 1920, he would probably never get another offer to sit on the Court.
But he did endorse Harding, who had given his nomination speech to the rowdy 1912 convention, and brought along what support in the party his still had.  He was surprised and gratified when Harding finally came through with the long cherished offer of the Chief Judgeship.
The skids were greased for the appointment.   The same day the appointment was announced by Harding, June 30, it was taken up by the Senate with no hearings.  The confirmation vote was overwhelming with just one Southern Democrat and three Roosevelt progressives voting no.  Taft was sworn in on July 11, plenty of time to prepare of the Court’s opening day of arguments on October 1.

The new Chief Justice and his court.  Senior member and liberal freindly opponent on the court Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr. to the right, and major irritant Louis Brandeis second from the left at top.  Despite tensions on the bench, Taft was so happy as Chief Justice that he said, "I don't remember being President."

Taft took over a court with two of his own appointees still on it—Willis Van Devanter and Mahlon Pitney and one close old friend but sometimes ideological opponent, fellow Unitarian Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a Roosevelt appointee and already senior Justice.  It also had on it an old enemy to whom he never did warm, the court’s most outspoken liberal, Louis Brandeis.  When another relative liberal, Harlan Stone, joined the court in 1925, Taft also had a shaky relationship with him.  On the whole the usually jovial Taft tried to keep the court a collegial place.
The Taft court was doggedly conservative and resistant to innovation or change despite sometimes sharp dissents from Brandeis, Holmes, and Stone.  The court consistently upheld a conservative interpretation of the Commerce Clause which made it almost impossible to either the Federal or state government to enact any regulation of trade or institute reforms to working hours or child labor. 
Taft considered Myers v. United States to be his most important decision.  In it he upheld the power of the President to remove an appointee without the advice and consent of the Senate.  The case at hand involved the removal of a local postmaster.  In his majority opinion he took a swipe at the already repealed Tenure of Office Act, the legislation President Andrew Johnson had been accused of violating and for which he was impeached by the House.  In effect it was an after-the-fact vindication of Johnson.
His most controversial case, however, may have been Balzac v. Porto Rico in which he adroitly dodged the murky status of Puerto Rico.  Balzac was a newspaper editor who had been criminally prosecuted for libel.  Lanza’s lawyers argued that he should have been protected by the Constitutional guarantees of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press.  But recognition of those rights would imply that Puerto Ricans essentially had the rights of U.S. citizens, bringing into question the whole quasi-colonial status of the island.  Taft held that since Puerto Rico was not a Territory designated for future Statehood, only such constitutional protections as Congress decreed would apply to its residents.  That kicked the thorny question of Puerto Rico’s status further down the road.  
Taft was an activist Chief Justice administratively.  He reorganized the Courts procedures and asserted his prerogative to oversee lower Federal Courts.  He lobbied for and got for the first time an administrative staff.  Taft was active in trying to shape decisions, discouraging dissents and urging unanimous votes when possible to highlight the authority and finality of court opinions.  He was greatly irritated when his liberal minority did not fall into line.  Taft actively lobbied Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover over appointments to the court and made his displeasure known when his recommendations were not heeded.
He lobbied hard for legislation which would allow the Supreme Court to choose which cases it would take as a way of dealing with a huge backlog of cases.  Previously it was compelled to hear all appeals from the lower courts.  Taft believed the High Court should reserve its time for the most important cases significant Constitutional issues.  After three years of lobbying he finally got his way and was able to slowly whittle away at the backlog of cases.
The Court then met in crowded chamber in the Capital Building.  Taft lobbied a tightfisted and reluctant Congress for a building of the Court’s own.  In 1927 Congress finally appropriated the funds to build a Supreme Court building on the South Side of the Capital.  Plans were drawn up by architect Cass Gilbert and construction eventually begun.  Taft hoped to be able to move into the building when it opened.  But the Depression caused construction delays and the building was not occupied until 1935.  It was dedicated as the William Howard Taft Supreme Court Building

After his resignation as Chief Justice and days before his death, the very ill Taft was photographed outside a hospital.
Taft’s health began to go into decline in the late ‘20’s.  Even the sharpness of his memory and ability to concentrate through long arguments began to fade. He resisted retirement fearful that Stone or another unsuitable liberal might be nominated in his place.  As his health rapidly declined he refused to resign until he got assurance from Hoover that his choice as a successor, Charles Evans Hughes, would get the job.  Hoover was reluctant to essentially cede his power of appointment to Taft, but ultimately agreed. 
Taft submitted his resignation on February 3, 1930.  On March 8 he died in his Washington home.  Despite never having served in the military, Taft became the first President interred at Arlington National Cemetery by virtue of his status as Commander in Chief. 

No comments:

Post a Comment