Supreme Court Justice John Blair

April 11, 2011

Supreme Court Justice John Blair was born in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1732.  Blair attended William and Mary College, which was founded by his great uncle, James Blair. After graduating, he studied law in London. Upon his return to Virginia he set up a law practice in Williamsburg in 1756. In 1787, Blair served as a delegate from Virginia to the constitutional convention, and he was a signer of the Constitution. His contributions to the convention were negligible. It is believed he never uttered a word during the entire convention. In 1789 George Washington nominated him as an Associate Justice of the first United States Supreme Court. Few cases were heard during the first years of the court. His most important opinion was written in the case of Chisholm v. Georgia(1793). This case asserted for the first time the Federal Judiciary’s power to enforce contracts between individual states and citizens of other states. I have previously posted about this controversial decision.

His other significant opinion involved a Court of Appeals case he decided while “riding circuit” in the United States Circuit Court in 1792.  In Hayburn’s Case,  Blair, James Wilson and Richard Peters became the first federal judges to hold an act of Congress unconstitutional when they ruled that a federal statute requiring circuit courts to act as pension commissions violated the separation of powers doctrine and the spirit of judicial independence.

Blair resigned from the Court on October 25,1795 because of poor health. Upon hearing of his retirement, New Hampshire Senator William Plumer had this to say of Blair:

“I consider him as a man of good abilities, not indeed a Jay, but far superior to Cushing, a man of firmness, strict integrity and of great candour.”

Samuel Chase of Maryland replaced him on the Court in 1796. John Blair died on August 31,1800, at the age of 68.

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