Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy 210th Birthday, Supreme Court Judges!

Today we celebrate the beginning of the first terms of the first three men to serve on the Supreme Court of Ohio. Return Jonathan Meigs Jr., William Sprigg and Samuel Huntington were appointed by the General Assembly in 1803. The three, all in their thirties were well-connected lawyers at the time of their appointment. Meigs and Huntington were Yale men from Connecticut and Sprigg was born in Maryland. Each man served for a time as a territorial judge: Meigs in the Northwest, Louisiana and Michigan, Huntington and Sprigg in the Orleans territory, and Sprigg also in Illinois and Missouri. Although none was an Ohio native, two of the judges had eventual namesakes in their adopted state: Meigs County in southeastern Ohio and Sprigg township in Adams County.

Here is a bit more about each. 

Return Jonathan Meigs Jr. 

Meigs was the first chief judge (the term justice was not used until the Modern Courts Amendment in 1968). A revolutionary hero, he served only one and one-half years of his first term before resigning to be a commandant and judge in the Louisiana Territory at the request of President Jefferson. Meigs was elected governor of Ohio twice, but his first victory was set aside because he failed to show the required number of years for Ohio residency. Instead, the General Assembly appointed him again to the supreme court, where he served another 10 months until he was chosen to fill an unexpired U.S. Senate term. Meigs finally became Ohio’s fourth governor in 1810 and was re-elected two years later when he was instrumental in supplying the troops during the War of 1812.  For his service, President James Madison appointed him U.S. Postmaster General, a position he held for nine years. Meigs died at age 61 and was buried in Marietta, the settlement founded in 1788 by his father. 

William Spriggs 

Spriggs served his first term on the Ohio Supreme Court from 1803 until 1806 when he moved to New Orleans to be a territorial judge. In 1808 he returned to Ohio after the General Assembly elected him again to the supreme court. During this time the court was embroiled over a controversy over whether judges could determine constitutionality of statutes passed by the legislature. Eventually, the General Assembly enacted a law that effectively swept all judges out of office in 1810.  Sprigg then was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives and worked successfully to repeal the law. In 1812 President Madison appointed him as a territorial judge and Sprigg worked in this capacity until 1818.  He returned to Maryland and died in 1827 at age 57. 

Samuel Huntington 

Huntington’s uncle and adopted father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and governor of Connecticut. Huntington himself was a delegate to the Ohio 1802 Constitutional Convention, having come to the Ohio Territory in 1800. He was elected to the first session of the Ohio Senate and helped draft legislation that established Ohio’s court system. One of the original judges named to the Supreme Court, he succeeded Meigs as chief judge in 1804. Huntington wrote the 1807 case that stated “the courts of law possess the power of inquiring into the constitutionality of legislative acts.” Rutherford v. M’Faddon. Two judges, Calvin Pease, the presiding judge in the circuit where the Rutherford case originated and George Tod of the supreme court were impeached by the Ohio General Assembly; their convictions failed by one vote. Huntington was not impeached, because in October 1808, he campaigned successfully for election as Ohio’s third governor. Three years later, Huntington was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. He chose not to seek a second term. In 1817, Huntington died at his home at age 51 and was buried in Painesville, Ohio. 

For more information on the biographies of former justices, go to www.sc.ohio.gov/SCO/formerjustices/default.asp.

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