Waite Court

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Supreme Court of the United States
Waite Court
Chief Justice Morrison Waite.jpg
March 4, 1874 – March 23, 1888
(14 years, 19 days)
Seat Old Senate Chamber
Washington, D.C.
No. of positions 9
Waite Court decisions
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg

The Waite Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1874 to 1888, when Morrison Waite served as the seventh Chief Justice of the United States. Waite succeeded Salmon P. Chase as Chief Justice after the latter's death. Waite served as Chief Justice until his death, at which point Melville Fuller was nominated and confirmed as Waite's successor.

The Waite Court presided over the end of the Reconstruction Era, and the start of the Gilded Age. It also played an important role in the 1876 presidential election, as five of its members served on the Electoral Commission that was created to settle the contested election. During the Waite's tenure, the jurisdiction of the federal courts was expanded by the Jurisdiction and Removal Act of 1875, which gave federal courts full jurisdiction over federal questions.


The Waite court began with the appointment of Morrison Waite by President Ulysses S. Grant to succeed Chief Justice Salmon Chase. Grant had previously nominated Attorney General George Henry Williams and former Attorney General Caleb Cushing, but withdrew both nominations after encountering opposition in the Senate. The Waite Court began with eight holdovers from the Chase Court: Nathan Clifford, Noah Haynes Swayne, Samuel Freeman Miller, David Davis, Stephen Johnson Field, William Strong, Joseph P. Bradley, and Ward Hunt.

Davis resigned from the court to accept a Senate seat, and President Rutherford B. Hayes successfully nominated John Marshall Harlan to replace Davis in 1877. In 1880, Hayes successfully nominated William Burnham Woods to replace the retiring Strong. In 1881, President James Garfield nominated Stanley Matthews to replace the retiring Swayne. President Chester A. Arthur added Horace Gray and Samuel Blatchford to the court, replacing Clifford and Hunt. Woods died in 1887, and President Grover Cleveland appointed Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II to the court.

Samuel BlatchfordWard HuntJoseph P. BradleyLucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar IIWilliam Burnham WoodsWilliam Strong (Pennsylvania judge)Stephen Johnson FieldJohn Marshall HarlanDavid Davis (Supreme Court justice)Samuel Freeman MillerStanley Matthews (lawyer)Noah Haynes SwayneHorace GrayNathan CliffordMorrison Waite
Chief Justice Associate Justice

Rulings of the Court[edit]

Notable rulings of the Waite Court include:

Judicial philosophy[edit]

The Waite Court confronted constitutional questions arising from the Civil War, Reconstruction, the expansion of the federal government following the Civil War, and the emergence of a national economy linked together by railroads.[2] The Waite Court issued several major decisions, including Cruikshank, that denied the federal government the power to protect the civil rights of African Americans.[3] However, historian Michael Les Benedict notes that the civil rights decision were made during the era of dual federalism, and the Waite Court was sincerely concerned with maintaining the balance of power between the federal government and state governments.[4] While the Waite Court struck down civil rights laws, it upheld many economic regulations, in contrast with the Fuller Court.[5]


  1. ^ Michael J. Klarman, The Racial Origins of Modern Criminal Procedure, 99 Mich. L. Rev. 48 (2000).
  2. ^ Stephenson, D. Grier (2003). The Waite Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. ABC-CLIO. pp. xi–xiii. Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  3. ^ Davis, Abraham L. (25 July 1995). The Supreme Court, Race, and Civil Rights: From Marshall to Rehnquist. SAGE Publications. pp. 17–18. Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  4. ^ Benedict, Michael Les (1978). "Preserving Federalism: Reconstruction and the Waite Court". The Supreme Court Review: 41–44. JSTOR 3109529. 
  5. ^ Benedict, Michael Les (2011). "New Perspectives on the Waite Court". Tulsa Law Review. 47 (1): 112–113. Retrieved 7 March 2016.