One of the amendments originally proposed by James Madison would have applied the Bill of Rights to states; it was dropped without ratification by the Senate on the reasoning that the states could protect individual rights in their own constitutions. The Supreme Court reaffirms this principle in Barron v. Baltimore, holding that the Fifth and other amendments in the Bill of Rights apply only to the federal government and not to the states.
Following Chief Justice John Marshall's death on July 6, President Andrew Jackson nominates Roger Taney to fill the position. Taney, a former Cabinet member in the Jackson administration and an instrumental aide in Jackson's attack on the Second Bank of the United States, is confirmed after three months of political wrangling.
The Taney Court issues its first major decision, Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge. The decision upholds the right of the Massachusetts legislature to charter the Warren Bridge Company to build an additional bridge across the Charles River in Boston. The Charles River Bridge Company, which since 1785 had held the sole such charter in Boston, had claimed that the new charter was an infringement of its contract rights. Taney's decision, which declares that "the happiness and prosperity of the community" may take priority over individual property rights, is a sharp departure from many of the precedents of the Marshall Court.
In the mid-1800s, the Port of Philadelphia was the site of a historic legal battle that culminated in the landmark decision Cooley v. Board of Wardens.
Reproduction courtesy of the Library of Congress
In Prigg v. Pennsylvania, a divided Court overturns the conviction of Edward Prigg, a slave-catcher prosecuted under a Pennsylvania law that criminalized the removal of black former slaves from the state. In the majority opinion, Associate Justice Joseph Story voids the Pennsylvania law because it denies slave holders the right to cross state lines in order to recover their runaway slaves -- a right protected by both Article IV of the Constitution and the federal 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. Six justices issue separate opinions.
The Court upholds a Pennsylvania law requiring that boats entering the Port of Philadelphia either employ a local pilot or pay a fee. The decision in Cooley v. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia states that the law does not conflict with the Commerce Clause of the Constitution granting Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce because the commerce affected by the law is entirely local in nature.