Origins of the Federal Court System

Judicial Review and Judicial Independence

What happened with the impeachment of Samuel Chase?

Samuel Chase had a distinguished political history. He had signed the Declaration of Independence. He had served as the chief judge of Maryland’s highest state court. However, Chase landed into trouble when he became a Supreme Court justice. His troubles occurred when he rode circuit and served as presiding judge in some key cases. For example, Chase apparently conducted himself in a very partisan manner during the sedition trial of James Callender. He also attacked President Thomas Jefferson, saying the president had engaged in “seditious attacks on the principles of the Constitution.” The House of Representatives impeached Chase 72–32 on eight charges in March 1804. However, the Senate acquitted Chase in 1805. On one charge, the Senate voted 19–15 to convict Chase. But Chase was acquitted on even this charge because there needed to be a two-thirds vote for conviction (or 24 votes). Many view the acquittal of Justice Chase as essential to the principle of an independent judiciary.


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