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  • Writer's pictureAli Assareh

Today in Legal History: Only Ever Impeachment of a US Supreme Court Justice! (Nov 30, 1804)

Today, on Nov 30, 1804, US Senate began its first (and only) ever impeachment of a US Supreme Court Justice.

Justice Samuel Chase was appointed to US Supreme Court by President George Washington in 1796. Chase was a staunch Federalist, and apparently had a rambunctious personality too.

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson was elected President, and in 1801, Jefferson's party, the Democratic-Republican Party (I know, right?!) took over Senate. At Jefferson's urging, Senate majority orchestrated Chase's impeachment on multiple grounds, including overtly political grounds: Chase's final article of impeachment accused him of promoting his political agenda from the bench, by "tending to prostitute the high judicial character with which he was invested, to the low purpose of an electioneering partizan."

Even though Senate consisted of 25 Democrat-Republicans, and only 9 Federalists, Chase convinced enough Senators that his trial was political, and was acquitted on all counts after accusers failed to reach the 2/3 required threshold for conviction. The Senate effectively insulated the judiciary from further Congressional attacks based on judges’ opinions.

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