Stuart v. Laird



''Stuart v. Laird'', 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 299 (1803), was a case decided by
United States Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all U.S. federal court cases, and over state court cases that involve a point o ...
notably a week after its famous decision in '' Marbury v. Madison''. ''Stuart'' dealt with a judgment of a circuit judge whose position had been abolished by the repeal of the
Judiciary Act of 1801 The Midnight Judges Act (also known as the Judiciary Act of 1801; , and officially An act to provide for the more convenient organization of the Courts of the United States) represented an effort to solve an issue in the U.S. Supreme Court during ...
. Stuart's lawyer was Charles Lee, who also represented
William Marbury William Marbury (November 7, 1762 – March 13, 1835) was a highly successful American businessman and one of the " Midnight Judges" appointed by United States President John Adams the day before he left office. He was the plaintiff in the land ...
. John Laird asked the Supreme Court to uphold the judge's ruling. Stuart's team argued that only the court rendering a judgment could enforce it and that the Judiciary Act of 1802 had been unconstitutional, to which Stuart lost on both accounts. The Court reviewed and upheld the Judiciary Act of 1802 and averted a dangerous showdown between the
legislative A legislature is an assembly with the authority to make laws for a political entity such as a country or city. They are often contrasted with the executive and judicial powers of government. Laws enacted by legislatures are usually known ...
and the
judicial The judiciary (also known as the judicial system, judicature, judicial branch, judiciative branch, and court or judiciary system) is the system of courts that adjudicates legal disputes/disagreements and interprets, defends, and applies the law ...
branches of the
United States government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United States, a federal republic located primarily in North America, composed of 50 states, a city within a feder ...


The case involved the Judiciary Act of 1801, which created a number of federal judgeships, who were called " midnight judges" since the Act had been passed by the lame-duck members of the
Federalist Party The Federalist Party was a conservative political party which was the first political party in the United States. As such, under Alexander Hamilton, it dominated the national government from 1789 to 1801. Defeated by the Jeffersonian Repub ...
during its final days in office. The Act established new circuit court judges to hear intermediate appeals. As a result, Supreme Court justices would no longer have to "ride circuit," which entailed substantial and often-dangerous travel, to sit with district (trial) court judges to hear appeals throughout the nation. Soon after its passage, the Act was replaced by the Repeal Act of March 8, 1802. In passing the Judiciary Act of 1802, Congress "also postponed the next term of the Supreme Court until 1803," which prevented the Court from ruling on the Act's constitutionality until after going into effect, according to law professor William Nelson. Federalists attacked the
Democratic-Republican Party The Democratic-Republican Party, known at the time as the Republican Party and also referred to as the Jeffersonian Republican Party among other names, was an American political party founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the earl ...
's new legislation by arguing that federal judges were appointed for life and so could not be constitutionally removed by the Repeal Act. The Judiciary Act of 1802 reinstated circuit courts but also resurrected the practice of circuit riding. Many thought the 1802 Act to be unconstitutional. One of them was newly-appointed Chief Justice John Marshall, who argued that justices should not have to preside over circuit courts unless they were commissioned as circuit court judges. He wrote of the other justices, "I am not of opinion that we can under our present appointments hold circuit courts, but I presume a contrary opinion is held by the Court and, if so, I shall conform to it." Justice Samuel Chase agreed with Marshall, but the other justices disagreed.


With Marshall not participating but very active behind the scenes, Justice William Paterson held for a unanimous Court that Congress had the authority under the Constitution both to establish and to abolish lower federal courts.


Although the Court sustained the Judiciary Act of 1802, the issue of circuit riding was substantially lessened because the Act effectively made circuit riding optional by requiring only one federal judge for a quorum on any circuit court. As a result, Supreme Court justices could rely on district court judges to hear intermediate appeals. That flexibility proved crucial to the demise of circuit riding. By the 1840s, the justices had all but stopped holding circuit courts. Scholars such as Bruce Ackerman have pointed to the decision as part of the opposition Federalist Court's accommodation of the new political regime.

See also

* List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 5 * '' Marbury v. Madison'' (1803) *
United States courts of appeals The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal judiciary. The courts of appeals are divided into 11 numbered circuits that cover geographic areas of the United States and hear appeals fr ...
* '' United States v. More'' (1805)


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Further reading

*James M. O'Fallon, ''The Case of Benjamin More: A Lost Episode in the Struggle over Repeal of the 1801 Judiciary Act'', 11 43 (1993).

External links

* * Written by a professor at St. Mary's University School of Law. * * {{USArticleIII United States Constitution Article Three case law United States Supreme Court cases United States judiciary case law 1803 in United States case law Good Behavior Clause case law United States Supreme Court cases of the Marshall Court