The Right Coast

February 01, 2005
February 1: This Day in Constitutional History
By Gail Heriot

The Constitution doesn’t specify how many justices should sit on the Supreme Court, so the first Court, convened on February 1st, 1790, had only six instead of the now-traditional nine. Of those, only three arrived on time for their first day of work. Travel was tough in those days. Fortunately, the Court had no cases before it, so the occasion was mainly ceremonial.

One of the problems they faced was what to wear. British judges, of course, traditionally wore rather elaborate gowns and wigs. But when Justice William Cushing walked down the street in full judicial regalia, the crowds made fun of him. “MY EYE!” a passer-by was heard to say, “WHAT A WIG!” Embarrassed, Cushing never wore the wig again. The justices decided to go bareheaded with simple black judicial robes.