With the inauguration ceremony this week of President Joseph R. Biden, who will be sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, we look back at the venerable tradition of chief justices administering the oath to incoming presidents. While Article II of the Constitution requires the president to take an oath at the beginning of his term, it does not identify the person or officer who is to administer the oath. The tradition of inviting the chief justice began when John Adams became president in 1797 and Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth swore him in.

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On October 30, the SCHS went live with its new educational documentary “The Supreme Court and the 1876 Election” which tells the story of the contested Hayes-Tilden election. Congress appointed a 15-member Electoral Commission that included 5 Supreme Court Justices to resolve that disputed election. While the documentary examines the saga of the contested returns and the two sets of electoral college votes sent to Congress, the main focus is on the role of Justice Joseph P. Bradley, who cast the deciding vote on the commission.

This 15-minute documentary is intended for high school teachers to use in the classroom and is the second in a series of documentaries produced by the SCHS to focus on civics education and the interplay between the three branches of government.

The first documentary “FDR and the Court-packing Controversy” can be viewed here.

Documentary producer and the Society’s resident Historian, Clare Cushman, introduces the lesson plans here:


Lesson plans for teachers for this new documentary can be found here.

Our documentary chronicles the 168 days between FDR’s fireside chat announcing his plan to enlarge the Supreme Court to as many as 15 justices in February 1937 and the defeat of his Court-packing scheme in July. It draws on contemporary cartoons and video footage to recount the twists and turns of this riveting episode in Supreme Court history.

The documentary is accompanied by specially designed lesson plans for high school teachers to help students learn about the Courtpacking episode, which highlights important issues about separation of powers. The FDR content is available here. Clare Cushman has provided an introduction to this educational video available here. The lesson plans to accompany the cartoon-rich short documentary “FDR and the Court-packing Controversy” is available here.

Seventh Annual Salmon P. Chase Distinguished Lecture

Thursday April 22, 2021 | 7:00 – 8:30 PM

To register, please click the “register” button on the top right of the page or fill out the following form.

Hosted by the Georgetown Center for the Constitution and cosponsored by the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Together with the Supreme Court Historical Society, the Center sponsors the annual Salmon P. Chase Distinguished Lecture and Faculty Colloquium to commemorate important anniversaries and neglected figures in our constitutional history. On Thursday evening April 22nd, 2021, Professor Martha Jones of Johns Hopkins University will be delivering the Seventh Annual Salmon P. Chase Distinguished Lecture commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment. The event will be held virtually. Our previous Chase lecturers have included James Oakes, Eric Foner, Colleen Sheehan, William Ewald, Charles McCurdy, and Sandy Levinson.

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