Samuel Nelson

Samuel Nelson
Supreme Court Justice: Samuel Nelson

Samuel Nelson was an associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court as well as an American attorney.Samuel Nelson was born in Hebron, New York. In 1813, he attended the Middlebury College in Vermont and also read law in order to be licensed in law in 1817. Samuel Nelson entered a private practice in 1817 in Cortland, New York. In 1820, Samuel Nelson was a presidential elector in 1820 as well as the Postmaster of Cortland until 1823.

Judicial Career

Samuel Nelson was the Sixth Circuit Court judge between 1823 and 1831. Afterwards, he became an associate justice in the New York Supreme Court between 1831 and 1837 and Chief Justice between 1837 and 1845. Unfortunately in 1845, Samuel Nelson was an unsuccessful candidate for the office of U.S. Senator New York.Samuel Nelson was nominated on February 4, 1845 by President John Tyler for a seat as a Justice on the United States Supreme Court and was confirmed by the Senate on February 14, 1845. He immediately received his commission, which was a surprise to him since other candidates who were thought to fill the seat were unable to do so.  Samuel Nelson served as an associate Justice for 27 years, retiring on November 28, 1872 and passing away soon after. 

Famous Cases

Ableman v. Booth (1859): A Supreme Court case where the Court held that the state courts could not issue decisions that contradict the decisions made by federal courts. This ruling made by the Supreme Court specifically overturned a decision which was made by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. Furthermore, the decisions highlighted the dual form of government by showing the independence of federal and state courts from one another. The case resulted from the events of 1854 where the Sherman Booth, an abolitionist editor, was arrested because he helped incite a mob in order to rescue a black fugitive in Wisconsin, which was against the Fugitive Slave Act. Booth received a writ of habeas corpus which ordered Booth’s release from federal custody. The US Marshal brought the case to the state supreme court, which decided that the federal law was unconstitutional and agreed with Booth's release. When the marshal went to the federal courts, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin refused to recognize the federal courts’ authority, and ordered Booth's release again. Wisconsin Supreme Court then declared the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as an unconstitutional act.
In a unanimous opinion made by the Supreme Court which included Chief Justice Samuel Nelson, the court stated that the state Supreme Court had essentially asserted that the state courts were supreme over the federal courts in cases that dealt with laws and the Constitution of the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court noted that if the Wisconsin Supreme Court could annul a judgment of conviction made by a federal district court, any state court would then have the power to annul a conviction made under federal law. The Supreme Court stated that the individual states did not have this power. 

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