Justice William Paterson

Justice William Paterson joined the U.S. Supreme Court on March 11, 1793, replacing Justice Thomas Johnson. Paterson was born on December 24, 1745 in Ireland, but his family came to Pennsylvania soon afterward. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1763 and received a graduate degree there three years later. Paterson was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1768 and entered private practice.

Paterson served as Attorney General of New Jersey from 1776 to 1783. He participated in the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, proposing what came to be known as the "New Jersey Plan." This envisioned equal representation for each state in the national legislature, preserving the power of the smaller states. Opposing the New Jersey Plan was the Virginia Plan, which proposed allocating votes to each state in proportion to its population. The delegates eventually settled on the Great Compromise, setting up a bicameral legislature in which the Senate followed the New Jersey Plan and the House of Representatives followed the Virginia Plan.

Elected to the first Senate, Paterson served there from March 1789 until November 1790. He resigned to become Governor of New Jersey. On February 27, 1793, President George Washington nominated Paterson to the U.S. Supreme Court. Washington withdrew the nomination on February 28 for procedural reasons but renominated Paterson on March 4, and the Senate confirmed him that day. He took the judicial oath a week later.

Paterson served with four Chief Justices during his 13-year tenure: John Jay, John Rutledge, Oliver Ellsworth, and John Marshall. One of his most notable opinions came in the 1796 decision of Hylton v. U.S., upholding a tax against a constitutional challenge.

Paterson died on September 9, 1806 in Albany, New York. Justice Henry Brockholst Livingston replaced him on the Court.