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


What did the Court say about the power of the Court to strike down unconstitutional federal law?

Justice Samuel Chase addressed the question of whether the Court could strike down an unconstitutional federal law. He intimated that the Court had the power to strike down such laws but that it would be done very rarely. Referring to Hylton v. United States, Chase explained: “As I do not think the tax on carriages is a direct tax, it is unnecessary, at this time, for me to determine, whether this court, constitutionally possesses the power to declare an act of Congress void, on the ground of its being made contrary to, and in violation of, the Constitution; but if the court have such power, I am free to declare, that I will never exercise it, but in a very clear case.”


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