Justice Joseph Story

Justice Joseph Story joined the U.S. Supreme Court on February 3, 1812, replacing Justice William Cushing. Story was born on September 18, 1779 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a coastal town north of Boston. He graduated from Harvard in 1798 and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar three years later. From 1805 to 1807, Story served in the Massachusetts legislature. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to fill a vacancy in 1808. Story returned to the Massachusetts legislature shortly afterward and became Speaker of the House.

On November 15, 1811, President James Madison nominated Story to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on November 18, and he took the judicial oath two and a half months later. Just 32 years old when he joined the Court, Story remains the youngest Justice in its history. He would spend slightly over half of his life on the Court, spanning the eras of Chief Justices John Marshall and Roger Taney.

While Marshall dominated most of his era, Story wrote for the Court in the notable case of Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee in 1816. He found that the U.S. Supreme Court could review decisions by state courts in cases involving the Constitution and federal laws. This case was part of a series of decisions in which the Marshall Court bolstered the powers of the Supreme Court and the federal government more generally.

Story left a mixed legacy on slavery, one of the central issues confronting the nation during the later stages of his tenure. He wrote for the Court in the Amistad case of 1841, freeing illegally enslaved Africans who had entered American waters on a Spanish ship that they had taken over in a mutiny. A year later, though, Story penned the majority opinion in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, which greatly restricted the ability of free states to regulate the activities of slave catchers. His view stemmed from his broad vision of federal power.

In 1829, Story became a professor at Harvard Law School while still serving on the Court. He also published several legal treatises, most notably Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States in 1833. Story died on September 10, 1845 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery there, where he had delivered the dedication address. Justice Levi Woodbury replaced him on the Court.

Selected Opinions by Justice Story:

Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842)

Topic: Powers of Congress

If Congress has a constitutional power to regulate a particular subject and does actually regulate it in a given manner and a certain form, it cannot be that the state legislatures have a right to interfere. In other words, when Congress has exclusive power over a subject, it is not competent for state legislation to add to the provisions of Congress on that subject.

Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816)

Topic: Role of Courts

The appellate power of the United States must extend to state tribunals when they take cognizance of cases arising under the Constitution and the laws and treaties of the United States.