Justice Bushrod Washington

Justice Bushrod Washington joined the U.S. Supreme Court on November 9, 1798, replacing Justice James Wilson. Washington was born on June 5, 1762 at a plantation on the Northern Neck of Virginia. He was a nephew of Founding Father and first U.S. President George Washington, whose brother was Bushrod Washington’s father. Washington graduated from the College of William and Mary at the age of 16 in 1778. He later studied law there under George Wythe, a renowned attorney who had recently become the first law professor in the U.S.

Washington briefly served in the Continental Army toward the end of the Revolutionary War. He then studied law in Philadelphia with James Wilson, whom he would eventually replace as a Justice on the Supreme Court. Returning to Virginia, Washington was admitted to the bar and entered private practice. In the late 1780s, he served in the Virginia House of Delegates and participated in the Virginia convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution.

On September 29, 1798, President John Adams appointed Washington to the U.S. Supreme Court during a recess of the Senate. He took the judicial oath about six weeks later. Adams formally nominated him on December 19, 1798, and the Senate confirmed him on December 20.

Washington served on the Court for over three decades, coinciding mostly with the tenure of Chief Justice John Marshall. Like many Associate Justices on the Marshall Court, he wrote few opinions of lasting significance. He typically agreed with Marshall on major cases. However, he diverged from the Chief Justice in Ogden v. Saunders in 1827, upholding a state bankruptcy law affecting contracts against a constitutional challenge under the Contracts Clause. This was the only constitutional case in which Marshall wrote a dissenting opinion.

Washington died on November 26, 1829 in Philadelphia. He was buried in the family tomb at the Mount Vernon plantation in Northern Virginia, which he had inherited from his legendary uncle. Justice Henry Baldwin replaced him on the Court.