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Shortly after William Howard Taft's death in 1931, his successor, Charles Evans Hughes, accurately observed that Taft's career "fittingly culminated in his work as Chief Justice," because the "efficient administration of justice was, after all, the dominant interest of his public life."

This observation suggests an important distinction between associate justices and a chief justice. The primary task of associate justices is to decide cases and deliver opinions, whereas the work of the chief justice also includes administrative responsibilities for the judicial branch of the federal government. Taft's current obscurity strongly indicates that enduring professional reputation depends upon the former task, but not the latter. Indeed, when Felix Frankfurter praised Taft as a great "law reformer" and accorded him "a place in to Oliver Ellsworth, who originally devised the judicial system," he unwittingly revealed what a very small place that is. It is, however, a very important one.

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