On March 9, National Constitution Center president and CEO Jeffrey Rosen spoke at the Supreme Court in a special event honoring “the Great Chief Justice,” John Marshall.
The Supreme Court Historical Society and the John Marshall Foundation hosted Rosen’s lecture in connection with the 215th anniversary of Marshall’s appointment to the Bench by President John Adams.
Adams famously said, “My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life.” And Marshall has been widely praised for transforming the Supreme Court into what his biographer Jean Edward Smith calls “a dominant force in American life.”
The talk explores the Great Chief Justice’s constitutional clashes with Thomas Jefferson and his influence on Justices ranging from the Jeffersonian Louis Brandeis to the Marshallian William Howard Taft.
Rosen explains how Marshall and Jefferson were personal and ideological opponents, who privately derided each other in colorful terms. Nevertheless, Marshall became the most successful Chief Justice in history because of his ability to win over Jeffersonian justices who were his ideological opponents through compromise and leadership.
He also argues that before Taft’s confirmation that Taft and Brandeis were personal and ideological opponents who later found ways to work together. Taft was a highly successful Chief Justice because he shared Marshall’s goal of what he called “massing” the Court, ultimately persuading Brandeis and other dissenting justices to join him in a series of unanimous decisions.
“The greatest tribute to Marshall’s enduring influence is that he not only won over his Jeffersonian colleagues on the Court. He inspired future Chief Justices—such as Taft—who would go on to win over Brandeis, the greatest Jeffersonian of the twentieth century -- by exhibiting a similar willingness to restrain the expression of personal views for the sake of institutional harmony,” Rosen said.
To listen to the full audio of Rosen’s lecture, click on the following link or use the player below: Download this episode (right click and save)
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