Supreme Court of the United States
Waite Court
March 4, 1874 – March 23, 1888
(14 years, 19 days)
SeatOld Senate Chamber
Washington, D.C.
No. of positions9
Waite Court decisions

The Waite Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1874 to 1888, when Morrison Waite served as the seventh Chief Justice of the United States. Waite succeeded Salmon P. Chase as Chief Justice after the latter's death. Waite served as Chief Justice until his death, at which point Melville Fuller was nominated and confirmed as Waite's successor.

The Waite Court presided over the end of the Reconstruction Era, and the start of the Gilded Age. It also played an important role during the constitutional crisis that arose following the 1876 presidential election, as five of its members served on the Electoral Commission that Congress created to settle the dispute over who won the Electoral College vote.

During Waite's tenure, the jurisdiction of federal circuit courts (as against that of the State courts) was expanded by the Jurisdiction and Removal Act of 1875, which gave the federal judiciary full jurisdiction over federal questions. As a result of the change, caseloads in the federal courts grew considerably.


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

The Waite Court, February 1886

The Waite court began with the appointment of Morrison Waite by President Ulysses S. Grant to succeed Chief Justice Salmon Chase. Grant had previously nominated Attorney General George Henry Williams and former Attorney General Caleb Cushing, but withdrew both nominations after encountering opposition in the Senate. The Waite Court began with eight holdovers from the Chase Court: Nathan Clifford, Noah Haynes Swayne, Samuel Freeman Miller, David Davis, Stephen Johnson Field, William Strong, Joseph P. Bradley, and Ward Hunt. Clifford, Miller, Field, Strong, and Bradley served on the 1877 Electoral Commission.

Davis resigned from the court in 1877 to serve in the United States Senate, and President Rutherford B. Hayes successfully nominated John Marshall Harlan to replace him. In 1880, Hayes successfully nominated William Burnham Woods to replace the retiring Strong. In 1881, President James Garfield nominated Stanley Matthews to replace the retiring Swayne. President Chester A. Arthur added Horace Gray and Samuel Blatchford to the court, replacing Clifford and Hunt. Woods died in 1887, and President Grover Cleveland appointed Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II to the court.


Bar key:
  Buchanan appointee   Lincoln appointee   Grant appointee   Hayes appointee   Garfield appointee   Arthur appointee   Cleveland appointee

Other branches

Presidents during this court included Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, and Grover Cleveland. Congresses during this court included 43rd through the 50th United States Congresses.

Rulings of the Court

See also: List of United States Supreme Court cases by the Waite Court and Criminal law in the Waite Court

Notable rulings of the Waite Court include:

Judicial philosophy

The Waite Court confronted constitutional questions arising from the Civil War, Reconstruction, the expansion of the federal government following the Civil War, and the emergence of a national economy linked together by railroads.[2] The Waite Court issued several major decisions, including Cruikshank, that denied the federal government the power to protect the civil rights of African Americans.[3] However, historian Michael Les Benedict notes that the civil rights decision were made during the era of dual federalism, and the Waite Court was sincerely concerned with maintaining the balance of power between the federal government and state governments.[4] While the Waite Court struck down civil rights laws, it upheld many economic regulations, in contrast with the Fuller Court.[5]


  1. ^ Michael J. Klarman, The Racial Origins of Modern Criminal Procedure, 99 Mich. L. Rev. 48 (2000).
  2. ^ Stephenson, D. Grier (2003). The Waite Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. ABC-CLIO. pp. xi–xiii. ISBN 9781576078297. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  3. ^ Davis, Abraham L. (25 July 1995). The Supreme Court, Race, and Civil Rights: From Marshall to Rehnquist. SAGE Publications. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9781452263793. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  4. ^ Benedict, Michael Les (1978). "Preserving Federalism: Reconstruction and the Waite Court". The Supreme Court Review. 1978: 41–44. doi:10.1086/scr.1978.3109529. JSTOR 3109529. S2CID 147451330.
  5. ^ Benedict, Michael Les (2011). "New Perspectives on the Waite Court". Tulsa Law Review. 47 (1): 112–113. Retrieved 7 March 2016.

Further reading