Today in Supreme Court History

Today in Supreme Court History: March 4, 1861

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

3/4/1861: President Abraham Lincoln's inauguration.

President Abraham Lincoln

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  1. Today is the anniversary of the inauguration of lots of people…

    1. From George Washington to FDR. Then Section 1 of the 20th Amendment went into effect.

      1. Not Zachary Taylor. He didn’t want to be inaugurated on a Sunday (March 4 that year) so he got inaugurated March 5. (Was David Rice Atchison the Acting President for one day?)

        1. Atchison was not Acting President. Taylor became President on March 4 of his first year in office, but couldn’t use any of the presidential powers until he completed the Oath of Office.

          1. So nobody had presidential powers on March 4? What if a presidential decision had to be made?

            In 1957 when Eisenhower was incapacitated due to a heart attack, Vice President Nixon was acknowledged as acting President. What about on March 4, 1849?

            1. Nixon was not Acting President. He just oversaw the White House; he made no decision. Back in the 19th Century nobody possessing the presidential powers was not a big deal.

              1. If a decision had to be made, and it couldn’t wait, Nixon was there to make it, including whether to “press the button”. This was at the height of the Cold War. And it was the implicit, carefully unspoken point of the press release.

    2. Maybe there’s some secret Masonic ritual involving leap years and the Gregorian calendar switch which selected just this one inaugural.

      1. Or maybe, just maybe, Josh Blackman has a favorite president lol

  2. Since this is about Supreme Court history, here’s some excerpts from Lincoln’s inaugural address, delivered on the day which the professor is commemorating:

    “I do not forget the position assumed by some that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court, nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case upon the parties to a suit as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the Government. And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be overruled and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor is there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges. It is a duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases properly brought before them, and it is no fault of theirs if others seek to turn their decisions to political purposes.”

    1. A carefully veiled reference to the Dred Scott decision. Outside that context of slavery, judicial check on Congress and the Executive has always been a given. Cf. John Jay’s letter to President Washington as to “advisory opinions”.

      1. The President’s remarks don’t rule out the judiciary checking other branches. (At least not in peacetime – Lincoln wasn’t hot about the checking function in wartime)

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