HomeConstitutional LawLegal HistoryLegal EthicsEvidenceProfessional ResponsibilityContact MeSearch

   

Supreme Court Justices

Bushrod Washington (1762 - 1829)

The nephew of George Washington, Bushrod Washington was born on June 5, 1762 in Virginia. Bushrod Washington studied law under George Wythe at William and Mary after graduating from the college in 1778. In 1784, after serving with the Continental Army, Washington began practicing law. He was a reliable Federalist in a party wracked by internal dissension in the late 1790s. In 1798, after the death of Associate Justice James Wilson, President John Adams asked Timothy Pickering to write John Marshall asking whether he would accept a nomination to the Court. Pickering sent a letter to Marshall, but believing he would decline, Pickering also sent a second letter, asking Marshall whether Washington would make a good Associate Justice. Marshall received both letters the same day, declined the appointment and praised Washington. Washington was 36 years old when he was appointed to the Court, and remained on the Court until his death in 1829 at the age of 67.

Washington strongly supported the nationalist jurisprudence of Marshall, and Marshall could count on Washington ordinarily to support Marshall's opinions. Washington was solicitous of private property claims, using the contracts clause of Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution, and accepted a broad understanding of federal power against competing claims made by the states. Washington wrote a concurring opinion in Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) tempering the contracts clause language of Marshall's opinion for the Court, and voted with the majority in Ogden v. Saunders (1827), the only constitutional law case in which Marshall wrote a dissenting opinion.

Bushrod Washington was the favorite nephew of George Washington, and became the executor of Washington's estate after his death. Bushrod Washington lent George's papers to John Marshall, and Marshall then wrote a popular multi-volume biography of George Washington. Mount Vernon, Washington's home, was inherited by Bushrod Washington.