This edition for educators highlights some of the shared history and personalities that have shaped the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court. Beginning with the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the court, and the selection of Continental Congress Member, John Jay, as the first Chief Justice, these co-equal branches of government have a unique history.
The Establishment of the Supreme Court
September 17, 1789
On this date, the House concluded debate and agreed to establish the Supreme Court and the federal court system as defined by Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution. “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court,” the framers of the Constitution wrote, “and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”
A House Chamber Funeral for Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison Waite
March 28, 1888
On this date, a funeral to honor the memory of the late-Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite was held in the chamber of the U.S. House. Funeral participants included Members of the House and Senate, President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland, the Supreme Court Justices, the Cabinet, and the diplomatic corps. The proceedings began at 11:30 A.M. as the Reverend J.H. Cuthbert of the District of Columbia opened with a prayer.
Representative Arthur Mitchell of Illinois and the Supreme Court
April 28, 1941
On this date, Representative Arthur Mitchell of Illinois, the only African-American Congressman in the 77th Congress and the first black Democrat elected to Congress, successfully argued before the Supreme Court that African Americans were entitled to interstate railroad accommodations equal to white passengers.
House Members Who Became U.S. Supreme Court Justices
As of this date, 17 former House Members have served on the U.S. Supreme Court. However, only one Representative has been appointed to the Supreme Court directly from a seat in the House of Representatives: James M. Wayne.
Delegate John Jay of New York
Continental Congress Member John Jay was appointed the First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Jay eventually resigned from the Supreme Court to serve as Governor of New York. He later declined a reappointment to the court.
Representative John Marshall of Virginia
Representative John Marshall declined an initial appointment to serve as a Supreme Court Associate Justice in 1798, only to accept an appointment as Chief Justice in 1801.
Representative Fred Vinson of Kentucky
Kentucky Representative Fred Vinson was appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1938. Vinson later resigned his judgeship to serve in a variety of Cabinet level positions for President Harry Truman. In 1946, President Truman appointed Vinson Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The Portrait of John Marshall
Painted in 1880, this portrait of former Representative and Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall is a copy by Richard Brooke after the portrait by William D. Washington in Virginia’s Fauquier County Courthouse. The portrait shows Marshall in his judicial robes and seated on a raised dais. It is a pose reminiscent of 17th- and 18th-century European court portraiture. Official papers and an inkwell rest at his elbow, while a scattering of legal volumes tumble down the carpeted stair.
Capitol Commemorative Plate
True to its role as the center point of Washington’s architectural landmarks, the U.S. Capitol is the focus of this mid-20th century souvenir plate. The executive and judicial branches are represented by the White House and Supreme Court building. The Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Washington Monument, Mount Vernon, and Arlington Cemetery’s tomb of the unknown soldier round out the sites typically visited during a trip to Washington. This plate was made by the Salem China Company in Ohio, which manufactured a variety of mid-century dinnerware and souvenir pieces.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. The series appears monthly. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory