Date on Senior Honors Thesis

5-2021

Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name

B.A.

Department

History

Author's Keywords

judicial reform; Chief Justice; William H. Taft; federal courts; 1920s

Abstract

As the only former president to ever serve as the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, William Howard Taft’s legacy is best exemplified through his impact on the federal judiciary. Taft proved in time that the judiciary was his one true passion, undertaking revolutionary federal court reform that expanded the federal district courts, introduced the Judicial Conference, strengthened the chief justiceship, expanded the Supreme Court’s discretionary jurisdiction, and established a freestanding Supreme Court building. Following the reform trends of the period, Taft accomplished his reforms with the help of his political connections and experience, his colleagues on his Court, and his expert judicial management skills. Through transforming the third branch of government from one with neither force nor will, into a branch with the necessary tools for effective delivery of justice and its own agenda, Taft’s federal court reform can still be felt across the United States today. Although the origins of Taft’s judicial reform proved unusual, Taft completed his reforms within the boundaries of the power of the chief justice as delegated by the United States Constitution. The modern federal courts’ structure and mere ability to function should be accredited to Taft, and Taft’s historical reputation should not rely on his hefty figure and mediocre presidency, but rather his respect for and dedication to the federal judiciary.

Lay Summary

Contrary to public opinion, Chief Justice William H. Taft served as one of the most important chief justices to ever sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. Much of Taft’s legacy consists of his mediocre presidency and heavy figure; however, Taft’s judicial reforms shaped the judicial branch into the federal courts of today and lifted the federal courts from the Founding Fathers' rural-oriented and eighteenth and nineteenth century designs. Through establishing the Judicial Conference, expanding the number of seats on the federal district courts, strengthening the role of the chief justice, and altering the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, Taft’s reforms considerably improved the federal judiciary. Although Taft expanded the power of the federal judiciary, all of his reforms were pursued within the powers granted to the chief justice under the United States Constitution.

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