Deciding to leave: the politics of retirement from the by Artemus Ward

By Artemus Ward

The 1st sustained exam of the method wherein justices decide on to depart the U.S. superb court docket.

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Extra info for Deciding to leave: the politics of retirement from the United States Supreme Court

Sample text

2 shows, the average white male could only expect to live to age forty-six at the end of the nineteenth century. Such was the state of medicine and general public health conditions that one never knew whether recovery or death was in store. As a result, discussion of the health of colleagues and friends was commonplace in the correspondence of the day. In February 1792, twenty-seven years before his death, Justice Thomas Johnson fell ill and was unable to join his colleagues for the Court’s term in Philadelphia.

13 Congress’s ideal of using the members of the Court in an educative, nationalizing function was plainly at odds with the harsh reality of the daily lives of the justices. While each justice felt it his duty to attend the courts in his circuit, the arduousness of the journeys resulted in the justices’ physical and mental decline. Because Congress was unwilling to change the policy, the justices ultimately resigned rather than further risking their heath. 14 Though the issue of circuit riding was their initial obstacle, the absence and subsequent inadequacy of a formal retirement provision became the chief stumbling block for future Courts and Congresses.

Though he did not depart under a like-minded president, his decision not to depart still reflects partisan concerns. It also reflects a major weakness of the life-tenure system: justices can remain on the Court past their ability to effectively participate in the work of the Court in order to hold out for a favorable president, senate, or both. In the following chapters I show that early on in the Court’s history, partisan concerns were subordinated to institutional and personal factors but eventually structural changes in the process allowed partisan concerns, like those exhibited by Marshall, to control departure decisions.

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