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In the USA, could a Supreme Court judge quit and run for President?

Has it ever happened?

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Yes, it has happened.

Charles Evans Hughes served on the Supreme Court from 1910 until 1916, when he resigned to run for President as the Republican nominee. He lost to Woodrow Wilson. Later, in 1930, he was appointed again to the Supreme Court, this time as Chief Justice, and served there until 1941.

John Jay, Oliver Ellsworth, and James Iredell all received electoral votes for President in the election of 1796. Jay had recently resigned as Chief Justice in 1795, and Ellsworth and Iredell were still serving and did not leave the court until 1799 and 1800 respectively. It's not clear that any of the three seriously campaigned for the presidency, though.

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  • Oddly enough, Hughes was first appointed by Taft, and later followed Taft as Chief Justice. Oct 29 '21 at 0:28
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While there are no rules barring it, it would be unlikely for two reasons. But before that, let's get down to the basics: In the U.S. one may hold office in one branch of government and seek office in another branch of government. It's only upon winning the election that the politician must give up his/her original office since the elected official cannot hold an office in two branches of government at the same time. However, in the case of SCOTUS, it's very unlikely to happen for two reasons that are more practical than legal:

First, the final months of campaigning coincides with some of the busiest times of the year for SCOTUS as the end of June usually marks the end of the term for SCOTUS (Terms are generally span the latter half of calendar year and the first half of the next. The most recently finished term as of time of writing was the 2020-2021 term and we are presently a month into the 2021-2022 term) and they usually have massive dumps of decisions in cases heard the previous year (Usually one controversial case a day, with a bunch of cases the public writ large has little interest in). July, August, and September are usually a vacation period where they get a much needed break before the next Term begins on the First Monday of October, but the Justices still have administration work to do as well.

Why this is important is because June/July in the U.S. election cycle is usually when the party convention is held, which is where the nominee for the party is named officially and a major event kicking off the final months of the campaign. October is also a very critical moment in the election cycle as it represents the final month of campaigning before the election, which is the First Tuesday after the First Monday of November. In American politics, there's a term called "October Surprise" where the real dirt of a candidate is often revealed by the other candidate as it will be the most damaging and offer the least amount of time for the candidate to respond meaningfully. As these are busy times for both the court and the campaign, a SCOTUS justice making a bid for President might be unable to mount a meaningful campaign.

The second reason is tenure: SCOTUS Justices are for life or until the justice decides to retire from the bench, while the President is for at least four years and at most 8 years. While the President makes more money in terms of annual pay, Justices will make more money between nomination and retirement and will have a fairly safe job barring any impeachment charges being brought (No SCOTUS Justice has ever been impeached in 200+ years). And the change in power isn't that much greater.

All that said, this has never happened but the reverse situation did occur: William Howard Taft was the U.S.'s 27th President and in 1921 following his two terms in office, President Warren Harding nominated Taft to be the 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

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    "since the elected official cannot hold an office in two branches of government at the same time." Is there an actual law to that effect, or is it merely a convention? Another recent post pointed out that John Marshall was simultaneously Secretary of State (executive) and Chief Justice (judicial) for about a month in 1801. Oct 28 '21 at 22:21
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    "this has never happened": Yes, it has; see my answer. Oct 28 '21 at 22:57
  • -1 W.H. Taft served only one term as president, 1908-1912. And as another answer points out , Hughes was appointed to the Court by Taft, resigned to seek a presidential nomination, and was later appointed Chief Justice, succeeding Taft in that position. Oct 29 '21 at 0:24
  • @NateEldredge In the Modern U.S. Government, it's expected that elected officials resign their current seat before taking a new seat. The closest we came to a Speaker of the House assuming role of President, the speaker would have resigned, which was partial motivation to allowing Ford to be nominated to Nixon's VP shortly before Nixon's resignation.
    – hszmv
    Oct 29 '21 at 12:50

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