The Jay, Rutledge, and Ellsworth Courts (1789–1800)


CourtSpeak: Ware v. Hylton State Law vs. U.S. Treaty Case (1796)

Justice Samuel Chase (unanimous ruling): “It is the declared will of the people of the United States that every treaty made, by the authority of the United States, shall be superior to the Constitution and laws of any individual State; and their will alone is to decide. If a law of a State, contrary to a treaty, is not void, but voidable only by a repeal, or nullification by a State Legislature, this certain consequence follows, that the will of a small part of the United States may controul or defeat the will of the whole. The people of America have been pleased to declare, that all treaties made before the establishment of the National Constitution, or laws of any of the States, contrary to a treaty, shall be disregarded.”

Justice William Paterson: “No act of any state legislature, and no payment made under such act into the public coffers, shall obstruct the creditor in his course of recovery against his debtor. The act itself is a lawful impediment, and therefore is repealed; the payment under the act is also a lawful impediment, and therefore is made void.”

Justice James Wilson: “But even if Virginia had the power to confiscate, the treaty annuls the confiscation. The fourth article is well expressed to meet the very case: it is not confined to debts existing at the time of making the treaty; but is extended to debts heretofore contracted. It is impossible by any glossary, or argument, to make the words more perspicuous, more conclusive, than by a bare recital.”

Justice William Cushing: “A State may make what rules it pleases; and those rules must necessarily have place within itself. But here is a treaty, the supreme law, which overrules all State laws upon the subject, to all intents and purposes; and that makes the difference.”


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