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The Marshall Court (1801–35)

Decisions

In what Contract Clause case did the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of a college?

The Marshall Court ruled in Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) that the state of New Hampshire violated the Constitution’s Contract Clause by changing the status of Dartmouth College and altering the internal functioning of the college. The governor of the state, William Plumer, was a diehard Democratic-Republican who wished to change the Federalist-dominated Board of Trustees. He sought to change the private college into a state-controlled public university. The college’s trustees battled him in court. They argued that the school’s 1769 charter from the king of England and subsequently the New Hampshire government (before Plumer took office) gave it vested rights to its private status.

Chief Justice John Marshall agreed, writing that the college’s private charter was a contract protected by the Contract Clause. “The opinion of the Court, after mature deliberation, is that this is a contract, the obligation of which cannot be impaired without violating the Constitution of the United States.”



Dartmouth College, subject of the Supreme Court trial Dartmouth College v. Woodward, in which the Court ruled that the state of New Hampshire violated the Constitution’s Contract Clause by changing the school’s status from a private college to a state-controlled public university. Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
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