Supreme Court Justice William Cushing

November 29, 2010

William Cushing was born in Scituate, Massachusetts on March 1, 1732. Coming from a long line of attorneys, he graduated from Harvard and was admitted to the Boston Bar a few years later. It appears he was not very successful in private practice. His fortunes took a turn for the better in 1771, when his father, John Cushing, resigned as a justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court. Cushing was appointed to replace his father on the bench.

When the Revolutionary War began, he was the only member of the court to side with the Patriots.During his career on the Massachusetts court, he presided over the trial of the rebels involved in Shay’s Rebellion.

In 1788 he served as Vice President of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention.

George Washington appointed him as an Associate Justice to the first United States Supreme Court in 1789.  He was on the bench for 21 years, making him the longest-serving original member of the Court.

After Supreme Court Justice John Rutledge’s nomination for Chief Justice was rejected by the Senate, George Washington nominated Cushing for Chief Justice on January 26, 1796. The Senate immediately confirmed his nomination. There was only one problem. Washington never told Cushing he was being nominated. Cushing, concerned about his failing health and apparently angry that Washington did not consult with him before nominating him, declined the appointment.

Although his health never improved, he did remain on the bench until his death in 1810.

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