Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, March 5, 2018

Winner--The Greatest Supreme Court Justice of All Time


The votes have been counted. Chief Justice John Marshall has emerged as the greatest Supreme Court Justice of all time with 45 % of the vote.  Justice Holmes came in second with 30% of the vote, and Justice Scalia third with 25 % of the vote.

Chief Justice Marshall's victory is not too surprising.  As Chief Justice, he was instrumental in establishing the Court's role in our political system.  Most notably, in the case of Marbury v. Madison, he explained that "It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is."  While the meaning of that phrase has been hotly debated, at a minimum Marshall established the power of the Court to invalidate a law that was contrary to the Constitution.

Chief Justice Marshall also instituted some reforms in how the Court as an institution worked.  For example, he convinced his fellow justices to abandon the practice of issuing opinions seriatim, where each justice issued his own thoughts on the matter.  Rather, the Court started issuing just one opinion that, at least theoretically, spoke for the Court.

According to profile of Chief Justice Marshall,  one of the "persistent myths" about him is that "the Liberty Bell cracked when [it] rung to mark the occasion of his death in Philadephia in 1835."  However, there is "no evidence" supporting this claim.

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