February 22, 2024

On Tuesday night, May 5, 1929, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft announced the death of Mr. Justice Holmes. Holmes was married to Fanny Bowditch for fifty-seven years. Her death proved to be difficult for him, and he wrote, “seems like the beginning of my own.” While grieving he continued to work, drafting a Court opinion and sending it to the Chief. He retired less than a year later, at the age of seventy-two. William Howard Taft’s served as the country’s president, had experience as an executive and steered the Court’s reforms significantly. His legislative changes allowed the Justices more discretion in accepting cases. Congress passed the Judges’ Bill in 1925 based on Taft’s urging. He also secured the construction of the Supreme Court building. This effort, along with many others, enhanced the legal process throughout Taft’s nine years in office.

The Supreme Court operates with much autonomy. It makes its decisions following a “rule of four” without much public explanation. The Court’s opinions accumulate into its history, while other stories of the Court quickly fade away into obscurity. A landmark study, “The Taft Court: Making Law for a Divided Nation, 1921-1930” by Robert C. Post, focuses on the Taft years, serving to rescue his jurisprudence from utter oblivion. William Howard Taft, a lawyer and a judge, sought to reframe the federal judiciary and defend the Constitution against Progressivism’s perceived excesses. He actively opposed the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, objecting to his supposed muckraking, hypocrisy, and socialism.