Justice John Blair

Justice John Blair joined the U.S. Supreme Court on February 2, 1790 as one of its inaugural six Justices. Blair was born on April 17, 1732 in Williamsburg, Virginia. He graduated from William and Mary College there in 1754 and then studied law in London. Returning to Virginia, Blair was admitted to the bar and pursued a political career. He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses in the late 1760s and as clerk of the Governor’s Council in the early 1770s.

Shortly after the American Revolution began, Blair participated in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1776. Over the next few years, he served on the Privy Council of Virginia and on the Virginia General Court. Blair eventually joined the Virginia High Court of Chancery in 1780. He participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and later assisted with the ratification process.

On September 24, 1789, President George Washington nominated Blair to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on September 26, although sources suggest that he did not take the judicial oath until the following year. Blair spent less than six years on the Court, slightly outlasting the tenure of Chief Justice John Jay.

Blair was one of the five Justices to write an opinion in the first significant decision of the Court, Chisholm v. Georgia, which found that the Court could hear a lawsuit against a state by a citizen of another state. (During this era, the Court usually produced seriatim opinions, which means that each Justice wrote a separate opinion rather than joining an “opinion of the Court.”) His opinion relied exclusively on the Constitution, rather than drawing on European legal sources. The Eleventh Amendment soon superseded the Chisholm decision.

Blair left the Supreme Court on October 25, 1795 and died in Williamsburg on August 31, 1800. Justice Samuel Chase replaced him on the Court.