Chase Court

The Chase Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1864 to 1873, when Salmon P. Chase served as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States. Chase succeeded Roger Taney as Chief Justice after the latter's death. Appointed by President Abraham Lincoln, Chase served as Chief Justice until his death, at which point Morrison Waite was nominated and confirmed as his successor.

Supreme Court of the United States
Chase Court
December 15, 1864 – May 7, 1873
(8 years, 143 days)
SeatOld Senate Chamber
Washington, D.C.
No. of positions10 (1864-1866)
8 (1866-1869)
9 (1869-1873)
Chase Court decisions

The Chase Court presided over the end of the Civil War and much of the Reconstruction Era. Chase was a complete change from the pro-slavery Taney; one of his first acts as Chief Justice was to admit John Rock as the first African-American attorney to argue cases before the Supreme Court.[1]

During Chase's chief-justiceship, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Act 1867, giving the Court the ability to issue writs of habeas corpus for defendants tried by state courts. The Chase Court interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment for the first time, and its narrow reading of the Amendment would be adopted by subsequent courts.[2] As Chief Justice, Chase presided over the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. He also pursued the presidency twice while in office; he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868 and the Liberal Republican nomination in 1872.


The Chase Court began when President Abraham Lincoln appointed Samuel Chase to replace Chief Justice Roger Taney, who died in 1864. The Chase Court commenced with Chase and nine Associate Justices: James Moore Wayne, John Catron, Samuel Nelson, Robert Cooper Grier, Nathan Clifford, Noah Haynes Swayne, Samuel Freeman Miller, David Davis, Stephen Johnson Field.

During Chase's tenure, Congress passed two laws setting the size of the Supreme Court, partly to prevent President Johnson from appointing Supreme Court justices. The Judicial Circuits Act of 1866 provided for the elimination of three seats (to take effect as sitting justices left the court), which would reduce the size of the court from ten justices to seven. Catron died in 1865, and he had not been replaced when the Judicial Circuits Act was passed, so his seat was abolished upon passage of the act. Wayne died in 1867, leading to the abolition of his seat. However, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1869, setting the size of the court at nine justices and creating a new seat. In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed William Strong to replace Grier, and Joseph P. Bradley to fill the newly created seat. Bradley was nominated after the Senate rejected Grant's nomination of Ebenezer R. Hoar; the Senate had also confirmed Edwin Stanton's nomination for the seat, but Stanton died before taking office. Nelson retired in 1872, and Grant appointed Ward Hunt to succeed him.


Note: + denotes new seat; denotes abolished seat

Bar key:        Jackson appointee         Tyler appointee         Polk appointee         Buchanan appointee         Lincoln appointee         Grant appointee

Rulings of the Court

Notable rulings of the Chase Court include:

  • Ex parte Milligan (1866): In an opinion written by Justice Davis, the court ruled that trials by military tribunal are constitutional only when the civil courts are not functioning, and there is no power left but the military. The case arose from an 1864 military tribunal in Indiana that tried several Union dissenters.
  • Mississippi v. Johnson (1867): In an opinion written by Chief Justice Chase, the court rejected a Mississippi lawsuit seeking to force President Andrew Johnson to enforce Reconstruction laws. The court held that Johnson’s decision to enforce such laws was discretionary.
  • Crandall v. Nevada (1868): In an opinion written by Justice Miller, the court struck down a Nevada statute that imposed a $1 tax on people leaving the state. The court held that the right to travel is a fundamental right that cannot be impeded by states.
  • Georgia v. Stanton (1868): In an opinion written by Justice Nelson, the court refused to intervene in the enforcement of the Reconstruction Acts, holding that the case constituted a non-justiciable political question.
  • Texas v. White (1869): In an opinion written by Chief Justice Chase, the court held that the Constitution does not permit states to legally secede from the Union. The decision held that all acts of Confederate secession were legally null.
  • Legal Tender Cases (1871): In a series of opinions, the court upheld the government's ability to print paper money under the Legal Tender Act.
  • United States v. Klein (1871): In an opinion by Chief Justice Chase, the Court held that the principle of separation of powers prohibits Congress from prescribing a rule of decision for the federal courts to follow in particular pending cases.
  • The Slaughter-House Cases (1873): In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Miller, the court held that the Fourteenth Amendment does not affect a state’s police power. The decision would eventually be largely overruled by numerous Supreme Court decisions that incorporated the Bill of Rights to apply to state governments.


  1. "The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson: Salmon Portland Chase". Retrieved December 11, 2011.
  2. Lurie, Jonathan (2004). The Chase Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. ABC-CLIO. pp. 87–89. Retrieved 9 March 2016.

Further reading

  • Abraham, Henry Julian (2008). Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Bush II. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742558953.
  • Blue, Frederick J. (1987). Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics. Kent State University Press. ISBN 9780873383400.
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 1-56802-126-7.
  • Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L., eds. (1995). The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-7910-1377-4.
  • Goldstone, Lawrence (2011). Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903. Walker Books. ISBN 978-0802717924.
  • Hall, Kermit L.; Ely, Jr., James W.; Grossman, Joel B., eds. (2005). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195176612.
  • Hall, Kermit L.; Ely, Jr., James W., eds. (2009). The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195379396.
  • Hall, Timothy L. (2001). Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781438108179.
  • Hoffer, Peter Charles; Hoffer, WilliamJames Hull; Hull, N. E. H. (2018). The Supreme Court: An Essential History (2nd ed.). University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-2681-6.
  • Howard, John R. (1999). The Shifting Wind: The Supreme Court and Civil Rights from Reconstruction to Brown. SUNY Press. ISBN 9780791440896.
  • Hyman, Harold M. (1997). The Reconstruction Justice of Salmon P. Chase In Re Turner and Texas v. White. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-0835-5.
  • Irons, Peter (2006). A People's History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution (Revised ed.). Penguin. ISBN 9781101503133.
  • Kens, Paul (1997). Justice Stephen Field: Shaping Liberty from the Gold Rush to the Gilded Age. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 9780700608171.
  • Labbé, Ronald M.; Lurie, Jonathan (2005). The Slaughterhouse Cases: Regulation, Reconstruction, and the Fourteenth Amendment. University of Kansas Press. ISBN 9780700614097.
  • Lurie, Jonathan (2004). The Chase Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781576078211.
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0-87187-554-3.
  • McGinty, Brian (2009). Lincoln and the Court. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674040823.
  • Niven, John (1995). Salmon P. Chase: A Biography. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199923304.
  • Ross, Michael A. (2003). Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era. LSU Press. ISBN 9780807129241.
  • Schwarz, Bernard (1995). A History of the Supreme Court. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195093872.
  • Tomlins, Christopher, ed. (2005). The United States Supreme Court: The Pursuit of Justice. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0618329694.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8153-1176-1.
  • White, Richard (2017). The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age: 1865–1896. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190619060.
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