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Letter from President George Washington to John Rutledge, July 1, 1795

Chief Justice John Jay retired from the United States Supreme Court in June 1795 to become governor of New York. John Rutledge, a former Supreme Court associate justice, promptly wrote to President George Washington, offering to serve as the new chief justice. In this letter, Washington accepted Rutledge’s offer, promising to appoint him to the position during a congressional recess.

George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Letter from President George Washington to John Rutledge, July 1, 1795 Letter from President George Washington to John Rutledge, July 1, 1795 Letter from President George Washington to John Rutledge, July 1, 1795

The Senate Rejects a Chief Justice

While Congress was in recess in 1795, President George Washington appointed a successor to resigning Chief Justice John Jay. Washington chose John Rutledge, who sought the position and had briefly served as an associate justice. Before the Senate reconvened, Rutledge made a speech harshly criticizing Jay and the president. When the Senate met to exercise its power of advice and consent, it rejected Rutledge because of his political activity. It was the Senate’s first rejection of a Supreme Court nominee.

Presidential appointments of Supreme Court justices require the Senate’s advice and consent. The Senate withheld its consent to a Supreme Court nomination for the first time in 1795.