For the first time, the Supreme Court asserted its appellate jurisdiction to review decisions by state supreme courts.

During the American Revolution, Virginia confiscated the land estate of loyalist Lord Fairfax and sold it to private interests. Virginia also enacted a law denying the right of foreign subjects to inherit land in the state. Fairfax’s English heir, Denny Martin, argued in court that the Virginia law was inconsistent with treaties between the United States and Britain. In Fairfax’s Devisee v. Hunter’s Lessee[case]Fairfax’s Devisee v. Hunter’s Lessee[Fairfax’s Devisee v. Hunter’s Lessee] (1813), the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Martin. The high court of Virginia, headed by Spencer Roane, refused to honor the decision and declared that section 25 of the Judiciary Act of 1789Judiciary Act of 1789;section 25, which authorized the Court’s review of state court decisions, was an unconstitutional violation of Virginia’s sovereignty. The case was returned to the Supreme Court, renamed as Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee.Judicial federalism;Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee[Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee]

Speaking for a unanimous Court, Justice Joseph StoryStory, Joseph;Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee[Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee] repeated the earlier decision, and his forty-page opinion on behalf of federal judicial review is considered a masterpiece. Story insisted that section 25 of the Judiciary Act was “supported by the letter and spirit of the Constitution.” For the purposes of national union and uniformity, it was imperative for the Court to have the final authority to interpret treaties, federal statutes, and the Constitution. Story’s landmark opinion strengthened national sovereignty and the supremacy of the federal judiciary. The major ideas of Martin were reaffirmed in several cases, especially Cohens v. Virginia[case]Cohens v. Virginia[Cohens v. Virginia] (1821).

Cohens v. Virginia

Fairfax’s Devisee v. Hunter’s Lessee


Judicial review

Judiciary Act of 1789

State courts

States’ rights and state sovereignty