Bayard v. Singleton 1 Martin (N. Car.) 42 (1787)

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BAYARD v. SINGLETON 1 Martin (N. Car.) 42 (1787)

This was the first reported American state case in which a court held a legislative enactment unconstitutional. This and the ten pound act cases are the only authentic examples of the exercise of judicial review carried to its furthest limit before the circuit work of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1790s. During the Revolution, North Carolina had confiscated and sold Tory estates; to protect the new owners, the legislature enacted that in any action to recover confiscated land, the courts must grant a motion to dismiss the suit. Bayard brought such a suit, and Singleton made a motion for dismissal. Instead of granting the motion, the high court of the state delayed decision and recommended a jury trial to settle the issue of ownership. The court seemed to be seeking a way to avoid holding the act unconstitutional and hoped that the legislature might revise it. The legislature summoned the judges before it to determine whether they were guilty of malpractice in office by disregarding a statute. The legislature found no basis for impeachment but refused to revise the statute. On a renewed motion to dismiss, the court held the act void, on the ground that "by the constitution every citizen had undoubtedly a right to a decision of his property by trial by jury." In defense of judicial review, the court reasoned that no statute could alter or repeal the state constitution, which was fundamental law. The court then submitted the case to a jury. The committee of the legislature that had heard the charges against the judges included richard dobbs spaight, a vehement antagonist of judicial review, and William R. Davie, co-counsel for Bayard; shortly after, both men represented North Carolina at the constitutional convention of 1787. James Iredell, later one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, also represented Bayard. Iredell published an address, "To the Public," in 1786, anticipating the doctrine of Bayard v. Singleton, and his correspondence with Spaight on judicial review best reflects the arguments at that time for and against the power of courts to hold enactments unconstitutional. Spaight's position, that such a power was a "usurpation" by the judiciary, accorded with the then prevailing theory and practice of legislative supremacy.

Leonard W. Levy