The Judiciary act of 1789 created a six-seat Supreme Court – one Chief, five Associates. Four Associate Justices were appointed on September 26, 1789, but the last one wasn’t filled until February 10, 1790. That justice was James Iredell (1751-1799).
James Iredell Was born in Lewes, Sussex, and came to America in 1768 to act as a British customs agent at the port of Edenton, North Carolina. He was on the side of the Revolution and became a very influential political essayist and judicial reformer, being elected to the North Carolina superior court in 1778 and serving as its attorney-general from 1779 to 1781.
Although Iredell heard few cases and therefore wrote few decisions, those which he did were some of the most influential of the pre-Marshall Supreme Court. He was the lone dissenter in 1793’s Chisolm v. Georgia, in which he argued that a state government should not be liable to be sued without its consent; most people agreed with Iredell, and the notion was codified by the Eleventh Amendment in 1794. In Calder v. Bull in 1798, Iredell’s opinion stated that the only state laws that ought to be overturned were those that explicitly contradicted the textual provisions of the Constitution, an idea that would eventually be incorporated into the doctrine of judicial review.
The stress of riding circuit wrought havoc on Iredell’s health, and he died suddenly at his home in Edenton in October 1799. A county in North Carolina was named after him.
Alfred Moore (1755-1810) was appointed by John Adams to replace Iredell, a fellow North Carolinian. Moore was sworn in on December 10, 1799, and served for about five years. Moore was 4’5″, making him the shortest Justice in Supreme Court history.
Alfred Moore was born near Wilmington, N.C., apprenticed as a lawyer under his father and was admitted to the bar in 1775. He served as a captain in the rebel state militia during the War of Independence; also, his father and brother were killed and his family estate was sacked by the British. He was elected to the state assembly after the War and was state attorney-general from 1782 to 1791. He lost a campaign for election to the US Senate in 1794 by a single vote.
Moore wrote only one opinion in his time on the bench, upholding that France was an enemy country in the undeclared Quasi-War. Moore retired in 1804 and went on to help found UNC Chapel Hill. He died in October 1810 at his summer home in Bladen County, N.C.
William Johnson (1771-1834) replaced Moore on March 26, 1804, and served until his death thirty years later.
William Johnson Jr. was born in Charleston, S.C., and graduated from Princeton in 1790, studying law under C.C. Pinckney (of XYZ Affair notoriety) and passing the bar in 1793. he was a state House representative from 1794 to 1798, when he was made a judge of the South Carolina supreme court.
William Johnson was known on the Court as a free thinker and frequent dissenter. In 1808 he ruled against the executive’s overextension of power over maritime trade, against the instruction of the Attorney-General and President Jefferson. Johnson died in NYC in August 1834, following complications from jaw surgery.
Andrew Jackson proceeded to replace Johnson with James Moore Wayne (1790-1867), who took his seat on January 9, 1835, and held it until he died in 1867.
James Moore Wayne was born in Savannah, went to Princeton, and passed the Georgia bar in 1810. he served as a state-level judge in Georgia from 1819 to 1829, when he was elected to the US House of Representatives as a Jacksonian Democrat.
His work on the Court mirrored his Jacksonian political beliefs: free trade, privately-funded infrastructure, and opposition to the chartering of the Bank of the United States.
Wayne’s death coincided with the brief attrition of Supreme Court seats from 10 to 7 following the Judiciary Act of 1866, and therefore his seat died with him.