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Stuart v. Laird


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1 Cranch (5 U.S.) 299 (1803), argued 23–24 Feb. 1803, decided 2 Mar. 1803 by vote of 5 to o; Paterson for the Court, Marshall not participating. Stuart v. Laird presented two constitutional questions raised by the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801. First, could Congress abolish the cir-cuit courts created by the 1801 statute and thereby, in effect, deprive the judges appointed to them of their positions despite the good-behaviour provision of Article III, section 1? Second, could Congress require justices of the Supreme Court to sit as circuit judges? Justice William Pater- son's brief opinion answered both questions in the affirmative, but on narrow and technical grounds that avoided rather than resolved the constitutional challenges. Paterson narrowed the first question to the validity of transfer of a pending case from a court existing under the 1801 act to one created under the 1802 repealer and held that Congress had power to require the transfer. As to circuit riding, he stated that the Court had acquiesced in the duty since its inception, so that it was too late in the day to challenge the practice. Implicitly, however, only six days after it had handed down its opinion in Marbury v. Madison (1803), the Court upheld the 1802 repeal act and thereby avoided a confrontation with the Republican-dominated Congress and executive.

William M. Wiecek

Subjects: Law.


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