“I don’t remember that I ever was president.” This sounds like something that will be said by Donald Trump, someday, from the witness stand. But did you know that a president has already said it? Specifically, 27th president William Howard Taft.
Taft was alluding to what should be obvious: being president is a terrible job that is best forgotten as soon as possible. The stress of it ages you too quickly, and it makes you eat too many eggs. (As Taft knew, when you’re stressed, the best prescription is to eat a dozen eggs. Repeat as necessary and don’t worry about overdosing because no matter what the Breakfast Cereal Information Service says, you cannot overdose on eggs.)
What Taft really wanted to be was a Supreme Court justice. And in America, if you work hard enough, keep focused on your goal, and also you’re a former U.S. president, you can accomplish just about anything. Sure enough, eight years after his presidency, Taft was sworn in as the 10th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. But was Taft able to match his success in the White House? Yes, pretty much!
Here are Taft’s top five opinions as Chief Justice, ranked in order of “great” to “even more great.”
5. Carroll v. United States, 1925
Should the police need a warrant to search your car? Taft was the first U.S. president to own a car, and usually the only thing hidden in his car was more Taft. So he was fine with saying no warrant is needed, so long as law enforcement has “probable cause.” In the particular case before the court, the probable cause was, “Three months ago this guy offered to sell me some whiskey, so he probably some whiskey with him right now, so I’m going to cut open his car seats and check.”
(And before you feel sympathy for “Carroll,” you should know that he was, in fact, secretly transporting whiskey. And if not for that warrantless search, he probably would have sold it once he got to Grand Rapids, and people there would have drank it. Score one for the good guys!)
4. Olmstead v. United States, 1928
Taft’s bold campaign against search warrants continued in 1928, with an opinion finding that recorded phone conversations can be used as evidence in court even if no one bothered to get a warrant before wiretapping the phone. It’s heartwarming to think about how many trees Taft saved from being chopped down, pulped, and turned into search warrants. But unfortunately, his opinion was overturned by the liberal Warren Court in 1967. (Liberals claim to care about the environment, but conveniently forget all about forest preservation when it comes to requiring search warrants.)
3. Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co., 1922
In this case, Taft ruled that taxing companies for using child labor was just a sneaky, underhanded attempt by Congress to keep companies from using child labor. You see, he knew from his days in the White House that if you turn your back on Congress for two seconds, it will start trying to regulate child labor. As they say, the price of cheap goods is eternal vigilance, against child labor laws.
2. Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 1923
In a near-unanimous decision, the court ruled that Congress could not set a minimum wage for women because it would infringe on women’s right to agree to be paid less. In opposition to this view was feminist hero Taft, whose dissent argued that while it’s all well and good to say women should be allowed to negotiate for less pay, it’s not fair to give them this responsibility, because everyone knows ladies can’t negotiate as well as men. Only 58 more years of an all-male Supreme Court, women of 1923!
1. Balzac v. Porto Rico, 1922
Should the people of Puerto Rico, who are both U.S. citizens and human beings, enjoy Constitutional protections such as the right to a jury? No, obviously not. They live in Puerto Rico! Do you think the Framers were thinking about Puerto Rico when they wrote the 6th Amendment establishing the right to trial by jury in “in all criminal prosecutions”? Don’t make me laugh. In 1789, Puerto Rico was still part of the Spanish Empire. Obviously, they just meant for this to apply to the states, like Hawaii.
Author’s Note: Neither JD nor Kate is an attorney. But JD did take the LSAT about 20 years ago, and he did okay even though he showed up late. So you can pretty much take everything in this piece as rock solid legal advice.