Justice Thomas Johnson

Justice Thomas Johnson joined the U.S. Supreme Court on September 19, 1791, replacing Justice John Rutledge. Johnson was born on November 4, 1732 near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. He studied law in Annapolis and was admitted to the bar. From 1762 to 1774, he served in the lower house of the Maryland General Assembly. Johnson participated in the Continental Congress at the beginning of the American Revolution, nominating George Washington to be Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. He also contributed to the creation of the Maryland Constitution.

In 1777, Johnson became the first Governor of Maryland. He was reelected twice, holding the position until late 1779. Johnson also served sporadically in the Maryland House of Delegates during the 1780s, and he assisted with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. He became Chief Judge of the Maryland General Court in 1790, but he held that position only briefly.

On August 5, 1791, President George Washington appointed Johnson to the U.S. Supreme Court during a recess of the Senate. He was the first recess appointment to the Supreme Court. Johnson took the judicial oath about six weeks later. Washington formally nominated him on October 31, 1791, and the Senate confirmed him on November 7.

Johnson spent only 16 months on the Court, which remains the third-shortest tenure of any Associate Justice. (Rutledge, whom he replaced, had the shortest tenure.) He left the Court on January 16, 1793 and was replaced by Justice William Paterson. Johnson lived for another quarter-century and died on October 26, 1819 in Frederick, Maryland.