Journal of Supreme Court History
Over the long history of the Supreme Court, nominees to the highest court in the land have been opposed for a variety of reasons. Often opponents are concerned about the nominee’s political ideology or competency. Occasionally, allegations are raised about political cronyism. And candidates have come under fire for their religion. But nominee Melville Weston Fuller’s selection launched a national debate that went to the very heart of what makes one qualified to sit on the Supreme Court: whether a judge should have a mustache.
On March 23, 1888, Morrison R. Waite died of pneumonia after sitting for fourteen years in the Supreme Court’s center chair. Approximately one month later, President Grover Cleveland nominated Fuller to be the next Chief Justice. A prominent and highly successful Chicago attorney, Fuller was a life-long Democrat who had sported a mustache at least since 1867. Fuller had previously declined appointments to be on the United States Civil Service Commission and to be solicitor general. This time, however, Fuller answered the call to duty.
Todd Peppers, Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller and the Great Mustache Debate of 1888, 45 J. Sup. Ct. Hist. 140 (2020).