March 1, 1805 — Justice Samuel Chase is acquitted at the end of his impeachment trial by the U.S. Senate.
Samuel Chase, a brash, outspoken, uber-Federalist, was nominated by George Washington in 1796 in what was possibly the first head-shaking judicial nomination. As a state judge in Maryland, he had weathered two attempts to remove him from his judgeship and was considered corrupt and, well, unpleasant. But as proof that partisan politics has existed as long as this government has, Washington most likely chose him based on his unwavering support for all things Federalist.
Chase openly campaigned for John Adams in the contentious 1796 election and was a big supporter (on and off the bench) of the Alien and Sedition Acts which made speech against the government (and specifically Adams) illegal.
That works better when your party is in charge, but the 1800 election puts Republican Thomas Jefferson in office, and suddenly Chase is all for speaking out against the president. Jefferson quietly urges impeachment charges in the House, and suddenly in 1805, we have the first and only Supreme Court justice to be impeached.
Presiding over the trial was none other than Vice President Aaron Burr, fresh off his duel with Alexander Hamilton. Burr took an especially active role in chastizing Chase; he denied him a table to sit at and supposedly had the jurist close to tears on several occassions. On March 5, the votes were counted, and Chase was acquitted on all 8 counts. Yet even Jefferson, who more than anything wanted to curtail the budding power of the judiciary and see Chase removed, praised his VP for his skills in managing the trial.
Presidents can’t remove Supreme Court justices for political reasons
Supreme Court justices should stay above the political fray
Aaron Burr was possibly THE most interesting character in U.S. history
Recommended Reading: Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr