Today in Supreme Court History

Today in Supreme Court History: January 20, 1953

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

1/20/1953: President Eisenhower is the first President to take the inaugural oath on January 20, following the ratification of the 20th Amendment. He would make five appointments to the Supreme Court: Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Justices John Marshall Harlan I, William J. Brennan, Charles Evans Whittaker, and Potter Stewart.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower made five appointments to the Supreme Court



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  1. This says Truman took the oath on Jan. 20 in his second inauguration:

    1. “inaugural” is the key word.

    2. You’re right: a quick check at newspapers[dot]com reveals that radio and TV coverage [the first presidential inaugural televised nationally] of Truman’s inauguration for his second [first full] term as president would begin/began at 11:30 am on January 20, 1949.

    3. “The second inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President of the United States was held on Wednesday, January 20, 1937. The inauguration marked the commencement of the second term of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President and John Nance Garner as Vice President. It was the first inauguration to take place on January 20 as per the 20th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.”

      1. Never mind, see below for an earlier mention of this.

  2. The 20th was ratified by its 32nd (final) state in February 1932. Why would it not have taken effect for Roosevelt’s second term inaugural, as it says it should?

    1. 1: Wikipedia says “The Twentieth Amendment was adopted on January 23, 1933”.

      2: “Section 5. Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.”

  3. Roosevelt’s 2nd inauguration was held on January 20, 1937.
    “Inauguration” is the word uniformly used in public news outlets (and elsewhere) for the commencement of a presidential term of four years, be it the first, second, third or fourth such term.

    1. But “inaugural”, to me at least, and apparently to Josh Blackman, has the specific meaning of “first”.

      1. Then Blackman should clarify that more limited meaning, because there is evidence that the word “inaugural” is commonly used, w/r/t presidential terms, as the first day of whatever term is commencing, e.g., Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.
        For commonly accepted usage, I’ll submit also the text of the Wikipedia entry for the commencement of FDR’s third term (coincidentally titled “The third inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt,” which begins “The third inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President of the United States was held on Monday, January 20, 1941….”
        Not that Wikipedia is the ultimate authority, of course, merely that it reflects a common understanding.
        If someone is using a word in a sense other than its common understanding(s), then it behooves that author to explain his more particular usage.

        1. Edit: close that parenthetical. My bad. ; )

  4. Back in the fifties I hitchhiked from Asheville to Houston so I could ferry a ’57 Chevrolet to Asheville. It was a sight, armadillos and “Impeach Earl Warren” signs along the road, all the way from Texas to North Carolina. At least the armadillos quit running out in front of me somewhere north of Louisiana.

    Btw, you should read _One Man’s Freedom,_ by celebrated lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams. He loved the rights-of-the accused rulings of the Warren Court.

  5. This is a much better post than usual for the series. Focusing on facts that are “too small” in some posts is much less valuable. But this one is interesting.

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