Chief Justice John Rutledge

Chief Justice John Rutledge first joined the U.S. Supreme Court on February 15, 1790 as an Associate Justice and one of its inaugural six Justices. He resigned after barely a year and spent a few years away from the Court before returning as Chief Justice on August 12, 1795, replacing Chief Justice John Jay. Rutledge was born on September 17, 1739 in Charleston, South Carolina. He studied law at the Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court in London. Soon after returning to South Carolina, Rutledge entered colonial politics.

Rutledge joined the South Carolina legislature in 1761 and also briefly served as the Attorney General of South Carolina a few years later. He then participated in the Continental Congress during the early stages of the American Revolution. From 1776 to 1778, Rutledge served as the “President” of South Carolina. He became the Governor of his state in the following year. Rutledge briefly rejoined the Continental Congress in the early 1780s and then became a judge on the South Carolina Court of Chancery. As a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, he was the chair of the Committee of Detail, which wrote the first draft of the U.S. Constitution. Rutledge ran for President in the first presidential election but received only six electoral votes.

On September 24, 1789, President George Washington nominated Rutledge to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on September 26, and he appears to have taken the judicial oath in the following February. Rutledge had the shortest tenure of any Associate Justice: one year and 18 days. He resigned on March 5, 1791 and was replaced by Justice Thomas Johnson. Rutledge then served as the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions for the next few years.

On July 1, 1795, Washington appointed Rutledge to the Chief Justice seat on the Supreme Court during a recess of the Senate. He took the judicial oath in the following month. Rutledge is one of only two Associate Justices (joining Charles Evans Hughes) who left the Court and returned later as a Chief Justice. Washington then formally nominated Rutledge on December 10, 1795. However, the Senate rejected him on December 15 in a 14-10 vote, likely influenced by his vehement opposition to the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Rutledge remains the only recess appointee to the Supreme Court who was not eventually confirmed.

After a failed suicide attempt, Rutledge resigned from the Court on December 28, 1795 and was replaced by Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth. Rutledge died on June 21, 1800 in Charleston.