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Supreme Court Justices

William Cushing (1732 - 1810)

William Cushing was born in Scituate, Massachusetts on March 1, 1732. Cushing became a member of the bar in Boston in 1755. Although the son and grandson of colonial judges, his early years at the bar were apparently difficult, and provided little remuneration. John Cushing, William's father, was an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court from 1747-1771. When he resigned, William was elected to take his place. Cushing had been a judge for three years when he was forced to choose between colony and Crown, and, unlike all other Crown appointees, chose colony over Crown. Cushing became Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1777, a position he would hold until 1789. In 1783, Cushing presided over a criminal action in Worcester that effectively abolished slavery in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Part of Cushing's charge to the jury was a recitation of a part of the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, which declared "all men are born free and equal." In 1787, during Shay's Rebellion, Cushing made certain to hold court sessions despite opposition from the armed men who hoped to close the courts, and later presided over the trial of those who led Shay's Rebellion. The next year, Cushing was Vice-President of the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts, which narrowly (187-168) ratified the United States Constitution. Cushing was the first associate justice nominated to the Supreme Court by George Washington. Cushing served on the Supreme Court for 21 years. Due to the rigors of travel and health troubles, Cushing wrote a mere 19 opinions during those 21 years. Even before John Marshall instituted the opinion of the Court, when the opinions of the Justices were issued seriatim, Cushing wrote little. His most important opinions were his opinions in Chisholm v. Georgia and Ware v. Hylton. In Chisholm, a 1793 case, the Court held that a state could be sued in federal court by a citizen of another state, and Cushing's opinion was nationalist in scope. In Ware, the Court concluded that a treaty is equal in force to the Constitution, which bars state from violating the terms of a treaty. Cushing again wrote a nationalist opinion, a view with which Jeffersonian Republicans disagreed.  

In 1795, the Senate refused to confirm John Rutledge as Chief Justice. Washington then suggested Cushing be appointed Chief Justice. Cushing eventually declined the commission for health reasons. Cushing married Hannah Phillips in 1774. He and his wife were childless. As you can tell from the accompanying drawing, Cushing wore a wig. It is believed that Cushing was the last American jurist to wear a wig. He died in 1810 in Massachusetts at age 78.