Justice William Cushing

Justice William Cushing joined the U.S. Supreme Court on February 2, 1790 as one of its inaugural six Justices. Cushing was born on March 1, 1732 in Scituate, Massachusetts, just south of Boston. He graduated from Harvard in 1751 and was admitted to the bar four years later. Cushing eventually moved to the part of colonial Massachusetts that is now the state of Maine. At the age of 28, he became a judge in the probate court in that region, starting a judicial career that would span half a century.

In 1772, Cushing was appointed to the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature, filling a seat left vacant when his father had resigned. He was the only judge to retain his seat in 1775, when the Massachusetts Revolutionary Council took over the colony and replaced the other judges who had been appointed by the Royal Governor. Two years later, Cushing became the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature (soon to be renamed the Supreme Judicial Court), a position that he held for 12 years. He also helped craft the Massachusetts Constitution and participated in the convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution.

On September 24, 1789, President George Washington nominated Cushing to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on September 26, but sources suggest that he did not take the judicial oath until the following February. Cushing spent two decades on the Court, which was the longest tenure of the inaugural six Justices. Despite this long span, he appears to have delivered just 19 opinions, many of which were very short.

Cushing became the first Supreme Court Justice to administer the oath of office to a U.S. President when he performed this function at the second inauguration of George Washington in 1793. He was nominated for Chief Justice in 1796 and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, but he returned the commission several days after receiving it, citing health concerns.

Cushing died on September 13, 1810 in Scituate and was buried there. Justice Joseph Story replaced him on the Court.