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The Political Supreme Court: Justices, Partisanship, & Power in the 19th Century

Facade of the Supreme Court building, Washington, D.C., MVLA

Join us for lunch and compelling discussion with Rachel A. Shelden, a member of our 2022-23 class of research fellows, as she discusses how differently the early U.S. Supreme Court and its justices operated, when compared to today's court. 

This event is part of the Washington Library's popular Lunch and Fellowship series. A boxed lunch (including sandwich or salad, fruit, pasta, cookie, chips, and drink) will be provided.


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David M. Rubenstein Leadership Hall

George Washington Presidential Library

Justices in the Early U.S. Supreme Court

Today most Americans believe that the Supreme Court should operate outside of the partisan political world. But for the first 100 years of American history, the idea of justices as politically neutral would have been baffling.

In the early years of the nation, members of the Supreme Court were deeply enmeshed in partisan politics—actively building political coalitions, campaigning on behalf of state and federal officials, and even running for political office themselves.

This talk explores the justices' political activities during the era of John Marshall and Bushrod Washington, illustrating the complicated relationship between the Supreme Court and American politics in the formative years of the judicial branch.

Rachel A. Shelden, Ph.D.

Shelden is Associate Professor of History and Director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State University. She is the author of Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2013) and co-editor of A Political Nation: New Directions in Mid-Nineteenth Century American Political History (University of Virginia Press, 2012).

Her work sits at the intersection of political, cultural, and constitutional history with a particular focus on how personal relationships and networks influence governance. Shelden's current project explores the political world of Supreme Court justices from the era of John Marshall and Bushrod Washington to the late-nineteenth century.

She is the recipient of the Washington Library’s James C. Rees Fellowship on the Leadership of George Washington

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