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Supreme Court Justices

Benjamin Curtis (1809 - 1874)

Benjamin Curtis was born November 4, 1809 in Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard College in 1829, and from the law school three years later. Curtis then practiced law in Boston for nearly twenty years. He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Millard Fillmore in 1851, and he remained on the Court for six years. Curtis is known for his opinions in two cases: Cooley v. Bd. of Wardens (1852), and Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). In Cooley, the issue was whether the states could regulate aspects of commerce, or whether the exclusive jurisdiction to regulate commerce resided in Congress, pursuant to Art. I, section 8, clause 3 of the Constitution. Curtis concluded that the federal government enjoyed exclusive power to regulate commerce only when the thing regulated required national uniformity. In all other cases, states were permitted to regulate commerce. In Dred Scott, Curtis dissented from the Supreme Court's holding that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Dred Scott was not a citizen of the United States, and from the Court's dictum that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional. Curtis resigned in dismay and disgust from the Court after Dred Scott was decided.

Curtis was only 47 when he resigned from the Court. He returned to the practice of law in Boston after resigning, and acted as defense counsel to Andrew Johnson during Johnson's impeachment trial in 1868. Curtis was thrice married, and was the father of 12 children.