On the History, Alito's Wrong: Attacks on Justices Nothing NewRoundup
tags: Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Judicial Ethics
Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton University.
Responding to accusations that members of the US Supreme Court have committed serious ethical lapses, Justice Samuel Alito complained to the Wall Street Journal April 28 that the accusations were unfair. “[T]his kind of concerted attack on the court and on individual justices,” he asserted, was “new during my lifetime.”
His effort to portray these recent criticisms of the justices as unprecedented, however, starkly contrasts with the actual history of the Supreme Court, which has long been a lightning rod in American life.
From its earliest years, Supreme Court justices were singled out for harsh criticism. After negotiating a treaty with Great Britain in 1794, Chief Justice John Jay returned home to find his countrymen furiously denouncing him. The protests were so widespread that Jay joked he could have ridden his horse at night from Boston to Philadelphia with only the light of the burning effigies showing him the way.
A decade later, Justice Samuel Chase, a fiery Federalist known for partisan rhetoric, was impeached by the House of Representatives. And so it went.
As the Supreme Court became more prominent in the twentieth century, attacks on justices were even more commonplace. When a conservative majority struck down New Deal agricultural supports in 1936, for instance, farmers in Iowa hanged life-sized effigies of the six justices responsible.
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