After the Constitution was ratified, President Washington needed to make several political appointments. In September 1789, he offered John Jay the position of Secretary of State. Though a new title, it would’ve been the same duties he was already performing as Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Jay turned down the offer. Still eager to put Jay into the government, Washington offered Jay another critical role – Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. According to Washington, the position “must be regarded as the keystone of our political fabric.” After Jay accepted, Washington officially nominated him on September 24, and the Senate unanimously confirmed him two days later. Jay swore his oath of office on October 19.
For the first three years, most of the Supreme Court’s time was spent establishing rules and procedures, admitting attorneys to the bar, and overseeing circuit court cases in the federal judicial districts. In his spare time, Jay aided President Washington and spread his ideas while touring the circuit courts.
In 1790, after the government moved to Philadelphia, Jay established the court’s independence after Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton asked the court to support legislation over state debts. Jay said that the court could only rule on the constitutionality of cases being tried and wouldn’t take a position for or against the legislation. This truly embodied the idea of separation of powers and the checks and balances that are foundational to the US Constitution.