On this day in 1872, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Nelson retired from the Court.
Nelson was born on a farm in New York in 1792. After graduating from Middlebury College in 1813, he clerked and eventually became a partner at a law firm. He was also active in the Democratic-Republican Party. At the age of 31, he became a New York state judge, eventually gaining appointment to the state’s supreme court in 1831; he was appointed Chief Justice in 1837.
In 1845, Nelson’s strong reputation as a judge earned him a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. President John Tyler’s lack of support in the Senate limited his options in selecting nominees to the Supreme Court, but he found in Nelson a person of held in such high esteem that he easily was approved the join the Court.
During the Civil War and Reconstruction period, he often voted against the North. He dissented in the Prize Cases, where he argued that since Congress had never declared war, the Civil War was not an official war, and therefore President Lincoln’s blockade of southern ports was illegal. In another case, he voted to overturn the conviction of a man accused of being a Confederate sympathizer. He generally opposed expanding federal power.
Justice Nelson served 27 years on the Court, until his retirement on November 28, 1872. He died a little over a year later, on December 13, 1873.
This Post was Written by ISCOTUS Fellow Breana Brill, Chicago-Kent Class of 2021, edited by ISCOTUS Editorial Coordinator Matthew Webber, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, and ISCOTUS Co-Director and Chicago-Kent Faculty Member Christopher W. Schmidt.