Thursday, May 13, 2010

Maryland and the Supreme Court

By Marc Korman.

With the news that President Obama is nominating Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, this is a good time to take a look at Maryland’s connection to the Court.

Supreme Court scholar Henry Abraham credits Maryland with five Supreme Court justices, including two Chief Justices. Abraham’s tally is based on the state a Justice resided in at their appointment, so it does not include what is arguably Maryland’s most significant contribution to the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall. Marshall was born in Baltimore but denied admission to the University of Maryland’s law school. He got his J.D. from Howard University and became chief counsel at the NAACP where he helped pioneer their legal integration strategy, argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court, and helped integrate the very law school he was denied admission to. That school’s law library now bears his name. Prior to President Johnson appointing Marshall to the Supreme Court, he served as the United States’ first African-American Solicitor General. Similarly, Elena Kagan is the first woman to hold that role.

Chief Justice Roger Taney was appointed by President Andrew Jackson and is plagued by at least two historical strikes against him. First, he was the fifth Chief Justice and followed John Marshall, the pioneering Virginia jurist who firmly established the Supreme Court’s role as a coequal branch of government. Second, and perhaps more significantly, the Taney court issued the Dred Scott decision. Dred Scott was a horrendous ruling which said that slaves were property, even in areas of the country where slavery was not legally allowed. The decision helped bring about the Civil War.

Samuel Chase was appointed by President Washington. Chase had served as Chief Justice of Maryland’s high court. He was actually impeached by the House of Representatives, largely for his extra-judicial rhetoric about democracy being mob rule. The Senate acquitted Chase, but those who say judicial politicization began with Robert Bork have not read their history.

Washington also appointed Thomas Johnson, another former Chief Justice of the Maryland high court, former Governor, and a fellow Revolutionary war general. Due to poor health, Johnson served for just 14 months which still stands as the court’s shortest tenure. President James Madison appointed Gabriel Duval, the first justice to reach the age of 80 on the bench. He had been a Maryland justice and an official with the federal Treasury Department.

The final justice credited to Maryland is the current Chief Justice, John Roberts. Roberts, a President Bush II appointee, is a New York native who has spent his career working in and around Washington. Although a resident of Maryland, he is not closely associated with the state.