Supreme Court Group Photo

Above, the Supreme Court in 1921: (sitting l. to r.) William Day; Jospeh McKenna; Chief Justice William Howard Taft; Oliver Wendell Holmes; William Van Devanter. (standing l. to r.) Brandeis, Mahlon Pitney, McReynolds, and John Hessin Clarke.

In 1924, Pitney’s retirement somehow led to Brandeis and McReynolds being reassigned next to each other when seniority seating for photographs was introduced. That year, the annual photograph of the Justices of the Supreme Court had to be canceled when Justice McReynolds refused to be photographed next to the Court’s first Jewish Justice, Louis Brandeis. The Supreme Court’s custom of sitting for a new portrait whenever it acquires a new member began in 1861, has been broken only once before, in 1891, when Justice Joseph P. Bradley was mortally ill.

Reactionary James McReynolds — only appointed because President Wilson wanted to get rid of his obnoxious Attorney General– was an anti-Semite, racist and misogynist and perhaps the court’s crankiest justice. He held three successive occupants of the court’s Jewish seat (Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter) in contempt, and refused to speak to them or participate in any formal supreme court duties having to do with any of them. During Cardozo’s swearing-in, McReynolds pointedly read a newspaper. He would turn his chair around 180 degrees whenever a black attorney argued a case before the Supreme Court. He would not accept “Jews, drinkers, blacks, women, smokers, married or engaged individuals as law clerks.” His attitudes towards the other white justices were no better. A continual grouch, McReynolds would always complain that the court is doing something that he regards as undignified; he hated wristwatches, and cigarettes and would regularly admonish other justices for wearing wristwatches and smoking. He argued with all the patrons at the Chevy Chase golf club — an establishment favored by Washington elite — and two fellow justices transferred from the club when they couldn’t stand McReynolds anymore.

The earliest photographers of the Supreme Court were the Washington establishment’s go-to photographers like Matthew Brady. For the better part of its history, the photos were taken by “the semiofficial photographers of official Washington” Harris & Ewing in their signature gray stone building on Washington’s F Street. In recent years, the Supreme Court has official staff photographers.

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12 thoughts on “Supreme Court Group Photo

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