Blair, John, Jr.

One of the original members of the Supreme Court, Blair worked to strengthen the powers of the federal government over the individual states.

Blair graduated in 1754 from the College of William and Mary. In 1755 and 1756 he studied law at the Middle Temple in London. He established a law practice in Williamsburg, Virginia, and in 1765 was elected to represent the College of William and Mary in Virginia’s House of Burgesses.FederalismWashington, George;nominations to the CourtFederalism

John Blair, Jr.

(Library of Congress)

As a burgess, Blair opposed Patrick Henry’s 1765 Stamp Act as too radical a move. However, after the British Crown dissolved the burgesses in 1769 and 1770, Blair sided with fellow Virginians advocating independence. He helped create Virginia’s new government as a delegate to the Virginia Convention in 1776 and was chosen as a general court judge. A series of court appointments followed. His most memorable decision came while sitting on the First Court of Appeals, when he and his fellow judges ruled in Virginia v. Caton[case]Virginia v. Caton[Virginia v. Caton] (1782) that the court had the power to determine the constitutionality of legislative acts. This decision helped set the stage for a strong Supreme Court a few years later.

In 1787 Blair was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and voted for the adoption of the Constitution. After the new government formed, President George Washington nominated Blair as one of the original five associate justices of the Supreme Court; Blair was confirmed by the Senate two days later.

Perhaps the most far-reaching decision of Blair’s career was in Chisholm v. Georgia[case]Chisholm v. Georgia[Chisholm v. Georgia] (1793), when he sided with the majority view that a citizen might bring suit against states in federal court. Blair’s opinion demonstrated his belief in the Constitution as the supreme legal authority in the nation and strengthened the federal government’s power over the states. The unfavorable reaction to this decision helped usher in the Eleventh Amendment, which restricted federal court power to hear suits against states brought by aliens or citizens of other states.

Early justices, in addition to their duties on the Supreme Court, presided over circuit courts. In Middle Circuit Court in 1792, Blair and fellow judges ruled in Collet v. Collet[case]Collet v. Collet[Collet v. Collet] (1792) that if the U.S. government naturalized a citizen, states must accept that decision, once again strengthening the power of the central government over that of individual states.

Because of failing health and exhaustion brought on by riding the judicial circuit, Blair retired from the bench in 1796 to return to Williamsburg, where he died in 1800.Blair, John, Jr.

Further Reading

  • Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004.
  • Friedman, Leon, and Fred L. Israel, eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinons. 5 vols. New York: Chelsea House, 1997.
  • Harrington, Matthew P. Jay and Ellsworth, The First Courts: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2007.
  • Marcus, Maeva, and James Perry, eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Chisholm v. Georgia

Circuit riding

Constitutional Convention

Constitutional interpretation

Eleventh Amendment