MVB Senate speech on the judiciary, 10 April 1826

MVB Senate speech on the judiciary, 10 April 1826


Mr. VAN BUREN said he had listened with great attention and profit to the gentleman from Kentucky, on the subject of his proposed amendment; but he could not vote for it in the form in which it now stood. Not that he was opposed to the principle, but he did not think they were properly connected with the bill now under consideration. The general rule, Mr. V. B. said, which would influence his mind on this subject, had already been stated by the gentlemen from Maine and Tennessee; his object in rising was to state one or two facts. With respect to the first branch of the amendment, which required a certain number of Judges to unite in the decision in certain cases, that subject was proposed when this bill was under consideration in the other House; it was discussed at large, and was resisted there on the same ground on which it is resisted here, and was finally rejected. It was in order, and proper, Mr. V. B. said, to advert to it. They knew, in all probability, that the adoption of it here would serve no other purpose than to retard the passage of the bill, which he believed was necessary should soon be passed, that the advantages expected to be derived from it might be realized.

With respect to the second branch of the amendment, that subject also had been referred to the Judiciary Committee, and had received a good deal of their time and attention; and for himself, Mr. V. B. said, he thought the amendment proposed by the gentleman from Kentucky, with some modification, would remedy the existing evil. The proposition was in itself proper and right; and he should be willing to unite in a report of the Judiciary Committee, recommending its adoption, with some alteration of the details. There is a bill now pending in the other House, containing the same provisions, as far as the United States are concerned. When that bill came here, Mr. V. B. said, or when the Judiciary Committee were referred to on the subject, he would lend his aid to carry into effect the views of the gentleman from Kentucky on these two objects. He was certain that some modification would be necessary; it was an object that had but recently been brought before them, and, connected with this bill, he was opposed to it, for the reasons he had stated.

(Mr. MILLS, Mr. TAZEWELL, and Mr. JOHNSON, of Ky. here successively delivered their sentiments on the question. It is a subject of great regret to the Editors, that they have it not in their power to introduce these speeches in their proper places.

Mr. VAN BUREN said he had stated he concurred generally with the gentleman from Kentucky. He concurred with him further, in his entire willingness to adopt the other remedy he proposes, to curtail the power of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States. On this principle, he would expunge from the Constitution the clause declaring no State shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts, and he would do so for the reasons assigned by the gentleman from Massachusetts. It was an article inserted in the Constitution at the time when the State Governments did not hold that rank to which they are now entitled. But that could only be done by an amendment of the Constitution. Mr. V. B. said his principal object in rising was to weaken the force of the objection last urged by the gentleman from Virginia, and which was to this effect: The bill on the table is defective, inasmuch as, by its provisions, a decision pronounced by the Judges at one term, might be reversed by a decision of the majority of the Judges, at a subsequent meeting of the Court. True, that was the case. But, Mr. V. B. said, it had been the case for the last twenty years. It was true, as the gentleman from Virginia had stated, that, at the first organization of the Judicial System, the difficulty was guarded against. There were five Judges, four were necessary to form a Court, and three were a majority. That continued to be the case after the number was raised to six. But in 1807, an additional Judge was added to the bench of the Supreme Court, making seven, and four were necessary to form a quorum up to the present time. From that time to the present, it has been in the power of a full Bench to modify or reverse a principle previously established. But when twenty years have passed without any such occurrence having taken place, Mr. V. B. thought that legislative provisions on that subject might be deferred till it could be brought up disencumbered from the present bill.

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