Justice Smith Thompson

Justice Smith Thompson joined the U.S. Supreme Court on September 1, 1823, replacing Justice Henry Brockholst Livingston. Thompson was born on January 17, 1768 in Dutchess County, New York. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1788 and started practicing law in New York four years later. In 1800, Thompson was elected to the New York state legislature, and he participated in the New York Constitutional Convention of 1801.

In the following year, Thompson joined the New York Supreme Court of Judicature. He became Chief Justice in 1814. After four years in that position, he became U.S. Secretary of the Navy under the administration of President James Monroe.

On September 1, 1823, Monroe appointed Thompson to the U.S. Supreme Court during a recess of the Senate. He was formally nominated on December 5, and the Senate confirmed him four days later. Thompson did not abandon his political aspirations after joining the Court, and he later ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York. However, he would remain on the Court for the last two decades of his life.

Thompson shared the majority of his tenure with Chief Justice John Marshall. His support for states’ rights often left him at odds with Marshall, who endorsed a broad view of federal power. Thompson also argued for Native American sovereignty in a dissent from an 1831 decision by Marshall in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia.

Shortly after Chief Justice Roger Taney replaced Marshall, Thompson concurred with the 1837 decision in New York v. Miln, which upheld a New York law against a Commerce Clause challenge. He wrote that a state law that does not conflict with any act of Congress does not violate the Constitution even if the subject of the state law falls within the commerce power.

Thompson died on December 18, 1843 in Poughkeepsie, New York and was replaced on the Court by Justice Samuel Nelson. In 1919, the U.S. Navy launched a destroyer named in Thompson’s honor.