According to reports, President Trump will boycott the inauguration of his successor. He would not be the first. In 1801, President Adams boycotted President Jefferson’s inauguration, which was also presided over by a Chief Justice named John. Adams left the White House at 4:00 a.m. on inauguration day. There are several accounts of why Adams left, but it is likely that Adams was frustrated with the outcome of the election of 1800. (Stephen Carter wrote an op-ed on this issue when several members of Congress boycotted Trump’s inauguration in 2017.)
And, as we all know, Adams’s haste to leave town so quickly led, in part, to the midnight judges controversy. President Jefferson was then sworn in by Chief Justice John Marshall, and later tried to dismantle President Adams’s Federalist judicial appointments. Thankfully, I think Trump’s Federalist judicial appointments are safe for now.
On January 20, Chief Justice Roberts will have issued the oath to four Presidents: Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden. Roberts still lags behind Marshall, who swore in five Presidents: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, J.Q. Adams, and Jackson. Unless, of course, Roberts decides to resign to help Biden restore balance to the Court. What could be better than a Republican-appointed Chief Justice stepping down with a Democratic-President and a 50-50 divided Congress? It would be an excellent team-building exercise. Chief Justice Garland anyone? Still mostly joking.
But you know which Chief Justice has the record for most Presidents sworn in? Robert B. Taney. He issued the oath to eight Presidents: Jackson, Van Buren, W.H. Harrison, Polk, Taylor, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln. During Taney’s tenure, Presidents Tyler and Fillmore received the oath from William Cranch, the Chief Judge of U.S. Circuit Court. Both were sworn in suddenly after Presidents Harrison and Taylor, respectively, died. Fun fact: Cranch was the Second Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court. (Marbury v. Madison, for example, is reported at 5 Cranch 137).