March 6, 2012
Super Tuesday is upon us, and this seems as good a time as any to reflect on the intersection of Ohio, the presidency, and the courts. While a broad number of topics fall under this umbrella, I want to focus on one, William Howard Taft, a leading Ohioan of his day and the only judge to have previously held the title of U.S. President.
Taft became Chief Justice of the United States in 1921, and went on to write 256 Cases while in that position (a simple search for ju(taft) in the SCT database shows this). Likely his most famous opinion was in Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438, which held that the 4th amendment’s prohibition on warrantless searches did not extend to wiretaps (a holding later reversed in Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347). But I was surprised to find that Olmstead is not Taft’s most cited case. That distinction (found by using WestlawNext’s ‘Most Cited’ sort filter) goes to Carroll v. U.S., another search and seizure case. Unsurprisingly, given that the cases are from the 1920s, both cases involved the illegal transportation of intoxicating liquors.
Before he was the only President to go on to be a Judge, Taft was the only Judge who went on to become a President (Truman technically held the title Judge, but his position was not judicial in nature). He wrote 199 opinions while on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (available by doing the same ju(taft) search in cta6).
During his second tenure on the bench, Chief Justice Taft was integral in the passage of the Court Judge’s Bill of 1925, 68 Cong. Ch. 229, 43 Stat. 936. This bill was notable for creating the Certiorari process for the Supreme Court, which before then took mandatory appeals from circuits and states. A critical view of this bill and Chief Justice Taft’s involvement can be found at 100 Colum. L. Rev. 1643. This may be his most influential act from his time on the bench (though if any Taft scholars out there disagree, please share your thoughts in the comments). So, to any aspiring Presidents dealt a cruel fate by Ohio today or in years to come, remember: retirement is only the beginning.
Other Research References
FYI: The Office of the Federal Register has historical election results including Electoral Votes by State dating back to 1789. The cited source is the Senate Manual. Taft took Ohio’s 23 electoral votes in 1908.