As the first chief justice, Jay was responsible for establishing procedures, admitting practitioners, and organizing the Supreme Court’s business. A strong nationalist in his constitutional views, he believed that the Court had judicial authority to hear cases against a state.
The son of a prominent New York City merchant, Jay was a member of colonial New York’s social elite. Educated at King’s College, later Columbia University (A. B., 1764), he was apprenticed to lawyer Benjamin Kissam, and admitted to practice in 1768. He was clerk to the New York-New Jersey Boundary Commission from 1769 to 1774. A leader of the conservative faction of New York patriots, he served in the First and Second Continental Congresses (1774 and 1775). Following New York’s declaration of independence on July 9, 1776, Jay helped draft the first state constitution and was elected the first chief justice of New York, serving from 1777 to 1778. Reelected to the Continental Congress, he became president (1778-1779) and then minister to Spain (1779-1783) and a member of the Peace Commission (1779-1783). Jay was secretary for foreign affairs (1784-1789), and a coauthor of The Federalist
An austere and dignified leader, Jay was particularly qualified to establish institutional forms and traditions that would well serve the Supreme Court. Admitting the first group of attorneys and counselors, he insisted upon the Court’s making an independent judgment concerning their character and abilities. In Hayburn’s Case
In Chisholm v. Georgia
While on circuit in Richmond, Virginia, Jay held that the 1783 Peace Treaty with Great Britain (known as Jay’s Treaty)
While serving as minister to Britain (1794-1795) but still retaining his commission as chief justice, Jay was elected governor of New York. He resigned from the Court, and served as governor from 1795 to 1801. Renominated to serve as chief justice in November, 1800, he declined the appointment on January 2, 1801, and lived in virtual retirement until his death.
Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004. Casto, William R. The Supreme Court in the Early Republic: The Chief Justiceships of John Jay and Oliver Ellsworth. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995. Goebel, Julius, Jr. Antecedents and Beginnings to 1801. Vol. 1 in History of the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Macmillan, 1971. Harrington, Matthew P. Jay and Ellsworth, The First Courts: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2007. Marcus, Maeva, et al., eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800. 7 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985- . Monaghan, Frank. John Jay: Defender of Liberty Against Kings and Peoples. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1935. Morris, Richard B. John Jay, the Nation, and the Court. Boston: Boston University Press, 1967. Van Santvoord, George. George Van Santvoord’s Sketch of John Jay: From Sketches of the Lives, Times and Judicial Services of the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. 3d ed. Washington, D.C.: Green Bag Press, 2001.
Chisholm v. Georgia
Foreign affairs and foreign policy
Reversals of Court decisions by amendment
States’ rights and state sovereignty
Ware v. Hylton