June 30: Chief Justice Taft

Taft CourtIn Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writers’ satirical 2004 faux text book America (The Book), William Howard Taft is described as follows:

Taft served as both president of the United States and chief justice of the Supreme Court –a remarkable feat unmatched in U. S. history. Taft also weight 320 pounds, making him the heaviest to serve either position. Guess which distinction people brought up more.

Well, today we’re going to honor Taft’s unique political achievement, for it was on this day in 1921 President Warren G. Harding nominated Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Unsurprisingly, Taft was quickly confirmed and achieved his lifelong dream of serving on the highest court in the land. It appears that Taft vastly preferred his time as chief justice to his four years as president, and to be blunt, so did his colleagues. Justice Felix Frankfurter reportedly said to Justice Louis Brandeis that it was “difficult for me to understand why a man who is so good a Chief Justice…could have been so bad as President.”

Taft’s time on the bench featured few cases that are well remembered in the present day, but he was instrumental in making changes to the Court’s operating procedures. He supported the Judiciary Act of 1925 which gave the court more independence in choosing what cases to hear. and brought the courts of Washington D. C. and the U. S. territories and possessions into the U. S. federal courts system. Additionally, at the time, the Supreme Court met in the Capitol building’s Old Senate Chamber. Taft argued that as a separate and independent branch of the federal government, the Supreme Court should have its own building to distance the Court from Congress. Sadly for Taft, it wasn’t until five years after his death that the Supreme Court Building would be built.

In the 1925 court case Samuels v. McCurdy, the Court heard a challenge to a Georgia law that made it illegal to own liquor that was legally purchased pre-Prohibition. The court ruled 8 to 1 that the law was unconstitutional, with Taft writing the majority opinion. So let’s raise a glass to the defender of a drinker’s property with a Taft Cocktail.

Now, there’s a slight problem here, as the exact recipe of the Taft has been lost to time, but I was able to find a copy of the Reading Eagle newspaper from 1909 that mentions a Taft cocktail created by legendary Ramos Gin Fizz inventor Henry C. Ramos which is “built after the manner of the Creole cocktail, but it has some trimmings.” The only other bit of information that the article gives is that the rim of the glass is dipped in a mix of lime and lemon juice and then frosted with powdered sugar. So, I’ve taken an old recipe for the Creole and added the preparation instructions from that 1909 article to create a reasonable facsimile of what they might have been drinking in New Orleans just over a hundred years ago.

Taft Cocktail (Recreated)

  • 1 ounce Bourbon
  • 1 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce Benedictine
  • 1/4 ounce Amer Picon

Dip the rim of the cocktail glass in a mix of lime and lemon juice and then frosted with powdered sugar. Stir the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and pour into the frosted cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: Canada’s favorite cocktail.

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