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Who Holds the Record for the Most Failed Supreme Court Justice Nominees?

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On February 13, the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia left a vacant seat on the bench. Though much has been made of the Republicans threatening to refuse any and all of President Obama’s nominations, it wouldn’t be the first time in history that opposing members of the Senate have profoundly stalled. Tenth U.S. President John Tyler currently holds the record for the most failed nominations, with eight nominations rejected or withdrawn in a span of just 15 months.

The situation then was not unlike the one we face today. Justice Smith Thompson died on December 18, 1843, with the expiration date on Tyler’s presidency looming. The controlling party of the Senate, the Whigs, had high hopes that Whig and former Secretary of State Henry Clay would be elected president. Clay would name a Supreme Court justice more amenable to their causes, of course, so the Senate majority did everything they could to block Tyler’s nominations. But in addition to that familiar scenario, Tyler—dubbed “His Accidency” because he was the first president to take office due to the death of his predecessor—no longer had the support of his own party. All of that adds up to the most drawn-out and failed nomination process in the history of American politics.

First, Tyler put forth his Secretary of the Treasury, John C. Spencer. Blocked. He tried Chancellor of New York Reuben H. Walworth as well as lawyer and jurist Edward King; Withdrawn and blocked, respectively. John Read, who would go on to become the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, was nominated by Tyler but later withdrawn before the Senate could act.

Then, associate justice Henry Baldwin died in April 1844, leaving a second vacancy on the Supreme Court. Tyler tried Spencer, Walworth (twice), and King again, but all of them were withdrawn or rejected.

During Tyler’s final month in office, the Senate finally approved Democrat Samuel Nelson to fill Smith Thompson’s spot. It took them another 27 months to fill Baldwin’s position, the longest vacancy in history. (So far.)

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Chris Radburn—WPA Pool/Getty Images
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politics
The Secret Procedure for the Queen's Death
Chris Radburn—WPA Pool/Getty Images
Chris Radburn—WPA Pool/Getty Images

The queen's private secretary will start an urgent phone tree. Parliament will call an emergency session. Commercial radio stations will watch special blue lights flash, then switch to pre-prepared playlists of somber music. As a new video from Half As Interesting relates, the British media and government have been preparing for decades for the death of Queen Elizabeth II—a procedure codenamed "London Bridge is Down."

There's plenty at stake when a British monarch dies. And as the Guardian explains, royal deaths haven't always gone smoothly. When the Queen Mother passed away in 2002, the blue "obit lights" installed at commercial radio stations didn’t come on because someone failed to depress the button fully. That's why it's worth it to practice: As Half as Interesting notes, experts have already signed contracts agreeing to be interviewed upon the queen's death, and several stations have done run-throughs substituting "Mrs. Robinson" for the queen's name.

You can learn more about "London Bridge is Down" by watching the video below—or read the Guardian piece for even more detail, including the plans for her funeral and burial. ("There may be corgis," they note.)

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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