Salmon Portland Chase Court (1864-1873)

Salmon Portland Chase was the 6th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, succeeding Roger Brooke Taney. Chase was nominated by President Abraham Lincoln on December 6, 1864. He was confirmed by the Senate on the day of his nomination, and he was sworn into office on December 15, 1864. A prominent politician before joining the Court, Chase explored presidential bids in the 1868 and 1872 elections. However, he remained Chief Justice until he died on May 7, 1873 and was succeeded by Morrison R. Waite.

The size of the Supreme Court fluctuated during Chase’s tenure. When he became Chief Justice, the Court consisted of 10 total Justices. In 1866, however, Congress decided to reduce the Court to seven Justices. Justice John Catron had died in the previous year and had not yet been replaced, so his seat was removed. In 1867, Justice James Moore Wayne died, and his seat was also removed as the Court shrank to eight Justices.

Congress then reversed direction in 1869, expanding the Court to its modern size of nine Justices. This created a new vacancy, which was filled by Justice Joseph Bradley in 1870. Justice Robert Cooper Grier retired in the same year and was replaced by Justice William Strong. The final change to the Chase Court came in 1872, when Justice Samuel Nelson retired and was replaced by Justice Ward Hunt.

Chase became Chief Justice a few months before the end of the Civil War. His Court spanned much of the Reconstruction era, and some of its decisions directly addressed the aftermath of the war. For example, the Court ruled that the Constitution created “an indestructible union”, which meant that secession and related acts by former Confederate states were void. On the other hand, the Court held that neither Congress nor a state could require people in certain occupations to take an oath that they did not aid the Confederacy.

One of the key events of Reconstruction was the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment on July 9, 1868. Less than five years later, the Chase Court became the first group of Justices to interpret it. The Court’s narrow view of the Privileges or Immunities Clause left the Due Process Clause as the main foundation for fundamental rights. This permanently shaped understandings of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Associate Justices on the Chase Court:

  • James Moore Wayne (1835-1867)
  • John Catron (1837-1865)
  • Samuel Nelson (1845-1872)
  • Robert Cooper Grier (1846-1870)
  • Nathan Clifford (1858-1881)
  • Samuel Freeman Miller (1862-1890)
  • David Davis (1862-1877)
  • Noah Haynes Swayne (1862-1881)
  • Stephen Johnson Field (1863-1897)
  • William Strong (1870-1880)
  • Joseph Bradley (1870-1892)
  • Ward Hunt (1873-1882)

Selected Landmark Cases of the Chase Court:

Slaughterhouse Cases (1873)

Author: Samuel Freeman Miller

Topic: Due Process

The privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States are those that arise out of the nature and essential character of the national government, the provisions of the Constitution, or federal laws and treaties made in pursuance thereof. (The main holding of this case addressed the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Due Process Clause. However, it is significant for due process doctrine because it made the Due Process Clause the foundation for most Fourteenth Amendment claims involving fundamental rights. This function otherwise might have been served by the Privileges or Immunities Clause.)

U.S. v. Klein (1871)

Author: Salmon Portland Chase

Topic: Separation of Powers

By providing that an acceptance of a pardon without a disclaimer shall be conclusive evidence of the acts pardoned, but shall be null and void as evidence of rights conferred by it, Congress invaded the powers both of the judicial and of the executive departments of the government.

Veazie Bank v. Fenno (1869)

Author: Salmon Portland Chase

Topic: Powers of Congress

Since Congress has undertaken in the exercise of undisputed constitutional power to provide a currency for the whole country, it may constitutionally secure the benefit of it to the people by appropriate legislation. To that end, Congress may restrain by suitable enactments the circulation of any notes not issued under its own authority.

Ex parte McCardle (1869)

Author: Salmon Portland Chase

Topic: Role of Courts

While the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is conferred by the Constitution, rather than acts of Congress, it is conferred with such exceptions and under such regulations as Congress may make. Therefore, when Congress enacts that the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction over final decisions of the Circuit Courts in certain cases, the act operates as a negation or exception of such jurisdiction in other cases. Moreover, the repeal of the act negates jurisdiction over the cases that it covers.

Georgia v. Stanton (1868)

Author: Samuel Nelson

Topic: Role of Courts

A bill filed by one of the states to enjoin the Secretary of War and other executive officers from carrying into execution certain acts of Congress on the grounds that this would annul and abolish the existing government of the state calls for a judgment on a political question and cannot be entertained by the Supreme Court.

Mississippi v. Johnson (1867)

Author: Salmon Portland Chase

Topic: Role of Courts

The legislative and executive departments cannot be restrained in their actions by the judicial department, although the acts of both when performed may be subject to its cognizance.

Crandall v. Nevada (1867)

Author: Samuel Freeman Miller

Topic: Taxes

States cannot use their taxing power to impede or embarrass the constitutional operations of the federal government, or the rights that its citizens hold under it.

Ex parte Milligan (1866)

Author: David Davis

Topic: Role of Courts

A citizen not connected with the military service and a resident in a state where the courts are open and in the proper exercise of their jurisdiction cannot, even when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended, be tried, convicted, or sentenced otherwise than by the ordinary courts of law.