Supreme Court of the United States
Rutledge Court
August 12, 1795 – December 28, 1795
(138 days)
SeatOld City Hall
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
No. of positions6
Rutledge Court decisions

The Rutledge Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from June to December 1795, when John Rutledge served as the second Chief Justice of the United States. Rutledge took office as a recess appointment of President George Washington to succeed John Jay. However, Rutledge was denied confirmation by the United States Senate, partly due to his attacks on the Jay Treaty.[1] Rutledge was succeeded in office by Oliver Ellsworth. This was the first time that the Senate rejected a Supreme Court nomination; it remains the only time a "recess appointed" justice was not subsequently confirmed by the Senate. Rutledge's tenure as Chief Justice lasted for only 138 days, and the court only decided two cases under his leadership.


See also: List of Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States

The Rutledge Court consisted of Rutledge and five Associate Justices from the Jay Court: William Cushing, James Wilson, John Blair Jr., James Iredell, and William Paterson. Blair resigned on October 25, 1795, and was subsequently replaced by Samuel Chase in February 1796.[2]


Bar key:   Washington appointee

Rejection of Rutledge by the Senate

After the resignation of Chief Justice John Jay, President Washington selected Rutledge to succeed Jay as chief justice. As the Senate would not be meeting again until December, Washington gave Rutledge a recess appointment so that he could serve as chief justice during the upcoming August session. Rutledge was commissioned as chief justice on June 30, 1795[3] and took the judicial oath on August 12.[4] On July 16, 1795, Rutledge gave a highly controversial speech denouncing the Jay Treaty with Great Britain.[5] Rutledge's speech against the Jay Treaty cost him the support of many in the Washington administration, which supported the treaty, and in the Senate, which would soon be called upon to advise the president on his nomination of Rutledge to the judicial post and to consent to its ratification by a two-thirds vote.

By the time of his formal nomination to the Court on December 10, 1795, Rutledge's reputation was in tatters, and support for his nomination had faded. Rumors of mental illness and alcohol abuse swirled around him, concocted largely by the Federalist press. His words and actions in response to the Jay Treaty were used as evidence of his continued mental decline.[6] The Senate rejected his appointment on December 15, 1795, by a vote of 10–14.[7] Altogether, 9 Democratic-Republicans and 1 Federalist voted in favor of confirmation, while 14 Federalists voted against it; additionally, 5 Federalists and 1 Democratic-Republican did not vote.[8] This was the first time that the Senate had voted down a Supreme Court nomination. As of 2024; it remains the only U.S. Supreme Court recess appointment to be subsequently rejected by the Senate.[6][9] Though the Senate remained in session through June 1, 1796, which would have been the automatic end of Rutledge's commission following the rejection, Rutledge resigned from the Court two days later, on December 28, 1795. He served the briefest tenure of any Chief Justice of the United States (138 days).[10]

Rulings of the Court

See also: List of United States Supreme Court cases by the Rutledge Court

The Rutledge Court, due in part to its brevity, issued only two rulings:

Other branches

The President during this court was George Washington. The Congress during this court was the 4th United States Congress.


  1. ^ Schwartz, Bernard (1993). A History of the Supreme Court. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 27–28.
  2. ^ "Justices 1789 to Present". Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  3. ^ Fisher, Louis (September 5, 2001). Recess Appointments of Federal Judges (PDF) (Report). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service. Retrieved April 26, 2022 – via UNT Digital Library.
  4. ^ "Justices 1789 to Present". Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court of the United States. Archived from the original on April 15, 2010. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  5. ^ Independent Chronicle (Boston). August 13, 1795, reprinted in Marcus, Maeva, and Perry, James Russell. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800 Archived April 28, 2016, at the Wayback Machine p. 780
  6. ^ a b "Chief Justice Nomination Rejected". Washington, D.C.: United States Senate. Retrieved March 8, 2022.
  7. ^ "Supreme Court Nominations: present-1789". Washington, D.C.: United States Senate. Archived from the original on December 9, 2020. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  8. ^ "4th Congress Senate Vote 18 (1795)". Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  9. ^ Wermiel, Stephen (February 15, 2013). "SCOTUS for law students (sponsored by Bloomberg Law): Recess appointments and the Court". SCOTUSblog, Supreme Court of the United States. Archived from the original on January 17, 2018. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
  10. ^ Flanders 642