Justice Philip Barbour

Justice Philip Barbour joined the U.S. Supreme Court on May 12, 1836, replacing Justice Gabriel Duvall. Barbour was born on May 25, 1783 in the Piedmont region of Virginia. He briefly moved to Kentucky and practiced law there, but he returned to Virginia and attended the College of William and Mary. Barbour then practiced law in Virginia for about a decade before he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1812.

Two years later, Barbour was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He would serve in the House of Representatives for the next decade, including a span as the Speaker of the House from 1821 to 1823. Barbour became a judge in the Virginia state court system in 1825, but he returned to the House of Representatives in 1827. He resigned from his seat in 1830 to become a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

On December 28, 1835, President Andrew Jackson nominated Barbour to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on March 15, 1836 in a 30-11 vote, and he took the judicial oath about two months later. However, Barbour would spend just five years on the Court.

Barbour wrote his most significant opinion in New York v. Miln, an early case involving the commerce power of Congress. He found that New York did not violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by requiring masters of vessels arriving in New York City to provide information about their passengers. Barbour wrote that this law fell within the police power of the state to protect the welfare of its citizens. He thus struck a blow for states’ rights against federal power, although the Court would overrule this decision a century later.

Barbour died on February 25, 1841 in Washington, D.C. and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery there. Justice Peter Vivian Daniel replaced him on the Court.

Selected Opinions by Justice Barbour:

New York v. Miln (1837)

Topic: Powers of Congress

While a state is acting within the scope of its legitimate power as to the end to be attained, it may use whatever means, being appropriate to the end, that it may think fit, although they may be the same or nearly the same as scarcely to be distinguished from those adopted by Congress acting under a different power. This is subject only to the limitation that the law of the state must yield to the law of Congress if they collide.