Special Tercentennial Issue
Distinguished Graduates
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William Howard Taft

B.A. 1878


Taft is the only person to have served both as president of the United States (1909–1913) and as chief justice of the Supreme Court (1921–1930), and he never left any doubt about which of these jobs he preferred. “I love courts,” Taft once stated. “They are my ideals, that typify on earth what we shall meet hereafter in heaven under a just God.”

Taft served as an Ohio Superior Court judge, a very successful U.S. solicitor general, and a Sixth Circuit federal judge, and in 1889 jockeyed for a Supreme Court appointment. After serving as civil governor of the Philippines and secretary of war under Theodore Roosevelt, Taft was maneuvered into the White House when Roosevelt declined to run again in 1908. Taft continued his predecessor’s policies of trust busting at home and dollar diplomacy in Latin America. He appointed six Supreme Court justices, a record for a single presidential term.

The call finally came while he was Kent Professor of Constitutional Law at Yale. As chief justice, Taft showed a degree of temperance in his anti-labor opinions, but he excelled primarily as an administrator. He helped focus the court’s business on the development of federal law, and enhanced the justices’ autonomy by gaining them control over their dockets. The present Supreme Court building in Washington came about through his efforts.