Justice James Iredell

Justice James Iredell joined the U.S. Supreme Court on May 12, 1790 as one of its inaugural six Justices. Iredell was born on October 5, 1751 in southern England, but he immigrated to the American colonies in the late 1760s. He worked in customs at Edenton, North Carolina, while also studying law. Iredell soon was admitted to the bar and entered private practice. As the American Revolution began, he staunchly advocated for independence.

Iredell helped organize the North Carolina state courts during this period, and he became a judge in a state court in 1778. From 1779 to 1781, he served as Attorney General for North Carolina. Although Iredell did not attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he argued for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in North Carolina. (However, North Carolina did not ratify the founding document until November 1789, over a year after it officially took effect.)

On February 8, 1790, President George Washington nominated Iredell to the U.S. Supreme Court. He took the seat originally intended for Robert Harrison, who had been nominated and confirmed in September 1789 but had declined the position. The Senate confirmed Iredell on February 10, 1790, and he took the judicial oath a few months later.

Iredell served on the Court for less than a decade. Probably his most memorable opinion was a solo dissent in Chisholm v. Georgia, in which the Court found that it could hear a case in which a state was sued by a citizen of another state. In 1795, the Eleventh Amendment vindicated Iredell’s view of state sovereign immunity and superseded the Chisholm decision. Iredell also wrote a concurrence in Calder v. Bull in which he argued that courts should not strike down laws due to principles of natural justice.

Iredell died on October 20, 1799 in Edenton at just 48 years old. Justice Alfred Moore replaced him on the Court.