Blair, John, Jr.

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 61

John Blair Jr., was among the original members of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nominated by President GEORGE WASHINGTON, Blair began his term as an associate justice shortly after the Court's establishment on February 2, 1790. Considered a fair-minded, incorruptible jurist, he remained on the bench for six years.

Blair was born in 1732 into a wealthy, well-established Virginia family. His parents were John Blair Sr., a public official with important political connections, and Mary Munro (or Monro) Blair, whose father was a rector in Virginia's St. John's Parish. In 1754, Blair graduated from the College of William and Mary (founded by his great-uncle), and he then studied law at Oxford's Middle Temple, in London.

In 1756 Blair returned to Virginia with his Scottish wife, Jean Balfour, and began a successful law practice in Williamsburg. He served in the House of Burgesses as a representative of William and Mary from 1766 to 1770. (The House of Burgesses was a colonial assembly of elected officials and the governor.) He served as clerk of the governor's council from 1770 to 1775. Blair attended the Virginia Constitutional Convention and the Virginia PRIVY COUNCIL in 1776. (The Privy Council was an advisory group to the English monarchy.)

Before his ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court, Blair performed judicial duties for various state courts. He became a judge on the newly established Virginia General Court in 1778. In 1780, he became chancellor of the high court of chancery and was appointed to Virginia's first court of appeals.

In the 1782 chancery case Commonwealth v. Caton, 8 Va. (4 Call) 5, Blair concluded that courts were entitled to review state legislation and to invalidate any laws found unconstitutional. The legal concept of judicial review?whereby the courts examine legislative acts and determine their constitutionality?was later embraced fully by the U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark case MARBURY V. MADISON, 5 U.S. 137, 2 L. Ed. 60 (1803).

In 1787 Blair served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Soon afterward he was appointed to the Virginia Court of Appeals. Blair received his greatest judicial honor when President Washington nominated him, along with five other men, to the first High Court on September 24, 1789. (At the time, only six justices sat on the Supreme Court. By 1869 the number had risen to nine.) Blair was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on September 26, 1789.


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