William Cushing

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William Cushing (March 1, 1732September 13, 1810) was an early associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, from its inception to his death.

Born in Scituate, Massachusetts, Cushing became a member of the bar in Boston in 1751. Although his family had a history of attorneyship, he seemed to have had a hard time at the beginning of his career. During that time, as well, his father, John Cushing, served on the Supreme Judicial Court for about 24 years. When his father resigned in 1771, Cushing took his position on the Court. However, when the American Revolution started, he had to choose between the rebels and Great Britain; unlike the rest of the court, he chose the U.S.

In 1783, Cushing presided over a criminal action that virtually abolished slavery in Massachusetts, citing the 1780 Constitution of Massachusetts's statement that "all men are born free and equal". During Shays' Rebellion, he made sure that court sessions continued, even at the aggressive protests of the armed rebels. He later presided over the trial against the rebels. A year later, in 1788, he was vice president of the Constitutional Convention, which narrowly ratified the Constitution.

When George Washington became President of the United States, his first appointee to the Supreme Court was Cushing. Although he served on the Court for 21 years, he wrote only 19 decisions, mainly due to frequent travels and failing health. He generally held a nationalist or Federalist view, often disagreeing with Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans. His two most important decisions were probably Chisholm v. Georgia and Ware v. Hylton, which regarded intra-state suits and the supremacy of treaties.

Meanwhile, in 1795, George Washington had to appoint a new Chief Justice. Although his first choice was John Rutledge, Congress refused to confirm him. Washington's next choice was Cushing; however, the latter declined because of health reasons. Cushing was probably the last American jurist to wear a wig. He died in 1810.

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Preceded by:
(none)
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
February 2, 1790September 13, 1810
Succeeded by:
Joseph Story

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