January 7, 1972 – Two Supreme Court Justices for the Price of One

On this day in history, two justices joined the Supreme Court on the same day. When this rare event occurs, seniority is determined by age.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr. was 64, and William H. Rehnquist was 47. Therefore Chief Justice Warren Burger administered the Judicial Oath to Powell before Rehnquist.

Lewis Powell was appointed to the Court by President Richard Nixon in part because of his conservative views on crime and law enforcement. But Powell was also an advocate of integration and civil rights. Thus Powell came to occupy a philosophical position in the middle of the Court.

lewis_powell

Rehnquist was an active Republican who had previously worked for Nixon in the Justice Department. As PBS reports,

When he joined the Court, Rehnquist was by far its most conservative justice, and he frequently dissented from its decisions. He was so often alone in his opinions during his 14 years as associate justice that he set a Court record of 54 unaccompanied dissents…”

william_rehnquist

In 1985 President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist as Chief Justice and nominated Antonin Scalia to fill Rehnquist’s seat.

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