This Is The Only President To Have Served On The Supreme Court

As you no doubt learned in grade school, America's federal government is divided into three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Although these branches are designed to be separate from one another, some politicians have managed to serve in multiple branches over the course of their careers. For example, 19 members of the House of Representatives have gone on to serve as president, per the U.S. House of Representatives. (Just one of these — John Quincy Adams — served as president and then took on a decidedly less prestigious position in the House.) A similar number of senators — 16 — later assumed the presidency, per the Senate.

Crossover between Congress and the Supreme Court is also fairly common; 17 House members and 15 Senators have also served on the Court. As with the presidency, it's far more common to see someone go from Congress to the Supreme Court as opposed to the reverse direction. But of all three branches, the executive and judicial have seen the smallest amount of crossover. In fact, only a single person has ever served as both a president and a Supreme Court justice (as of 2021). That lone individual is William Howard Taft.

William Taft served as America's 27th president and 10th chief justice

William Taft took on many titles throughout his lifetime. Per Britannica, Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1857, and later studied law at Yale. Taft spent his early career in a number of minor appointed offices. Then, in 1892, Taft served as a judge of the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals — a position that foreshadowed his later judicial success.

In 1901, Taft was appointed as the first civilian governor of the Philippines; at the time, the Philippine islands were a colony of the United States. Taft loved that position so much that he declined an appointment to the Supreme Court by President Theodore Roosevelt — twice! In 1904, however, Taft agreed to return to Washington to serve as Roosevelt's secretary of war.

Of course, William Taft is best remembered for winning the presidency in 1908. (With Roosevelt's outspoken support, Taft was able to win the election by a wide margin.) But many forget that in 1921, Taft took on another powerful position: Supreme Court justice. And not just any justice — chief justice, the highest-ranking member of the judicial branch. Taft (who had spent the prior decade as a Yale law professor) was appointed by then-president Warren G. Harding.

As chief justice, Taft took steps to improve the efficiency of the Supreme Court. But as his health declined, Taft stepped down from his position in February of 1930; he died just one month later.