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Supreme Court Developments
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Click on a date to learn more about Supreme Court developments during a specific time period.
1787 1794 1810 1833 1857 1866 1874 1883 1896 1910 1918 1930 1935 1941 1954 1963 1966 1973 1981 1989 1995 2000 2005
Claiming A Stake
Following his acceptance of an appointment as Special Ambassador to England, Chief Justice John Jay travels across the Atlantic to negotiate what will become the Jay Treaty. Despite denunciations from critics claiming his actions to be a violation of the separation of powers, Jay does not resign from the Court. Jay's successor, Oliver Ellsworth, will later serve as Minister to France without resigning his post on the Court. The divided attention of the Court's first leaders does nothing to raise the institution's low prestige and weak authority.

John Jay runs for and is elected governor of New York, and resigns his post as chief justice to begin his new job. A New York newspaper characterizes the move as a "promotion" for Jay.

The Court is barely able to function due to numerous absences on the bench. Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth is in France, William Cushing is sick, and Samuel Chase is away in Maryland, working on the campaign for President John Adams's reelection.

The nation's capital moves again, this time to Washington, D.C. Due to an oversight indicative of the Supreme Court's low prestige, no plan is made for a Court building or accommodations. The Court moves into a space that had been originally intended for use by a House committee.

Photo of Chief Justice John Marshall.
Considered by many to be the Supreme Court's greatest Chief Justice, John Marshall was appointed to the Court in 1801 by President John Adams and served until his death in 1835.

Reproduction courtesy of the Library of Congress
President John Adams appoints Chief Justice John Marshall.

The Court issues the landmark decision Marbury v. Madison, declaring sections of the Federal Judiciary Act of 1789 unconstitutional. Although state and lower federal courts had previously invoked the principle of judicial review, the Marbury decision marks the Supreme Court's first use of the doctrine to invalidate federal legislation on constitutional grounds. While the Court reviews numerous federal statutes in the coming decades, it does not again exercise the authority to invalidate a federal statute until 1857 -- when it holds the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional in the case Dred Scott v. Sandford.

Jeffersonian Republicans in the House vote to impeach Justice Samuel Chase, a Federalist justice since 1796. Republicans found their impeachment drive on the contention that Chase is "arbitrary, oppressive and unjust"; Chase counters that their effort is politically motivated and unrelated to the stated charges that he has committed "high crimes and misdemeanors." Ultimately acquitted by the Senate, Chase remains on the Court until his death in 1811. His acquittal sets a strong political precedent for an independent judiciary -- and for judicial discretion.