Thompson, Smith (1763–1843)

Author:Donald M. Roper

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Smith Thompson was among the most experienced judges ever appointed to the Supreme Court, and his tenure on the bench (1823?1843) linked the constitutional doctrines of the MARSHALL COURT and the TANEY COURT. After sixteen years on the New York Supreme Court (1802?1818), four years as chief justice, Thompson had been secretary of the navy (1818?1823). His experience in JAMES MONROE'S cabinet made Monroe feel so comfortable with Thompson, presumably including his constitutional views, that the President insisted that the New Yorker fill the seat vacated by the death of a fellow New Yorker, H. BROCKHOLST LIVINGSTON.

Thompson did not change his jurisprudence significantly during his twenty years on the Court. He remained a black-letter lawyer, whose most interesting contributions to constitutional jurisprudence can be traced to his New York judicial and cabinet experiences. Besides adhering to precedent, Thompson concerned himself with maintaining judicial independence while showing a willingness to let the legislature have free rein. Having served in an era when Congress was relatively inactive, Thompson appears today as a STATES ' RIGHTS advocate, or more precisely an adherent to states' responsibilities. Yet his values did not differ greatly from those of his nationalistic brethren on the Marshall Court. He was, for example, aware of the business community's needs. Unlike Livingston, his predecessor on the Marshall Court, Thompson was more willing to express his differences with the rest of the Court.

He was absent when GIBBONS V. OGDEN (1824) was argued, but in Livingston v. Van Ingen (1812), decided by the New York court, he had resolved some of the questions involved in Gibbons in favor of the steamboat monopoly. Although Thompson's Van Ingen opinion did not consider the commerce clause question, that of his colleague, JAMES KENT, did and commerce clause cases subsequent to Gibbons show that Thompson subscribed to Kent's doctrine of concurrent powers to regulate commerce. JOHN MARSHALL'S language in Gibbons was, moreover, sufficiently broad to allow Thompson to render lip service to Gibbons while taking a contrary position. In BROWN V. MARYLAND

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(1827), Thompson dissented from Marshall's majority opinion holding that Maryland's law imposing license taxes on wholesalers of imported goods violated both the import and export and the COMMERCE CLAUSE. Like Kent, Thompson did not examine the nature of...

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