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Fourth Chief Justice of the United States (Supreme Court) John Marshall (1801-1835) is sometimes lumped in with Adams' last-minute appointments, or Midnight Judges, but this designation is incorrect. While Marshall was appointed to succeed Oliver Ellsworth after Adams lost the 1800 Presidential election to Thomas Jefferson, the decision was separate from the court-packing that occurred in late February and early March 1801.

By 1801, Chief Justice Ellsworth was in poor health and unlikely to preside over the Court much longer, regardless of who won the Presidential election. Adams' replacement of Ellsworth with Marshall was calculated to ensure the Judicial Branch remained under Federalist Party guidance, but was the sort of political decision any President would make if his party was leaving office.

The midnight judges, on the other hand, were all appointed to new positions created under the Judicial Act of 1801 and the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801. The Judicial Act of 1801 expanded the Article III federal court system; the Organic Act of 1801 removed Washington, DC, from the jurisdiction of Maryland and Virginia and placed it under Congress' control.

The Judicial Act allowed Adams to appoint 16 new Circuit Judges and several additional District Judges, all members of his Federalist Party, and was considered an attempt at packing the constitutional courts in order to retain Federalist control well into the future (Article III judges receive lifetime appointments).

The Organic Act allowed Adams to appoint an unspecified number of justices of the peace to five-year terms of office. The 42 low-level judicial positions carried little authority, and may have been a form of political patronage (favors to supportive party members), given the unusually high number of appointments.

The Federalist justices of the peace were called Midnight Judges because they were nominated on March 2 and confirmed by the Senate on March 3, 1801, the day before Adams' administration ended. Last-minute administrative details caused the commissions to remain undelivered when President Jefferson entered office on March 4, and ultimately lead to one of the US Supreme Court's most important cases, Marbury v. Madison, (1803).

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Q: Who was the Federalist 'midnight appointment' who presided over the US Supreme Court for 34 years?
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