Justice Smith Thompson

On this date in 1843, Justice Smith Thompson passed away at age 75 in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Born in New York City on January 17, 1768, Thompson went on to graduate from Prinction University in 1788.  Thompson then “read the law” under the watchfull eye of Gilbert Livingston and James Kent, who is a towering figure in American jurisprudence.  Thompson was admitted to the New York bar in 1792 and practiced in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. with Gilbert Livingston, who would become his father-in-law.  In 1800, Thompson was elected to the New York legislature.  In 1802, Thompson was appointed to the New York Supreme Court where he served until 1814 when he was elevated to the post of Chief Justice of that Court.  In 1818, Thompson left the position as Chief Justice when U.S. President Monroe appointed him as Secretary of the Navy.  In 1824, President Monroe nominated Smith Thompson to serve as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court for the seat previously held by Justice Brockholst Livingston, who had died the previous year.  While on the Court, Justice Thompson was known for opposing the expansionist view of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constituiton.  Thompson felt that the Commerce Clause permitted states to enact laws so long as those laws weren’t in direct conflict with a federal law while Chief Justice John Marshall and Justice Story maintained the federal government held exclusive right to regulate commerce.  Thompson’s most significant historical contribution was his involvement in the Amistad case where he rendered a decision while sitting on the circuit court which set up the ultimate appeal that landed in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Also of interest is that Justice Thompson was one of the few Justices who continued to actively engage in politics while on the bench—In 1828, Justice Thompson ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor of the State of New York.