Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee

(1816)

Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816), a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in the development of federal-state relations, asserted for the first time the Supreme Court's authority under Section 25 of the federal Judiciary Act of 1789 to hear appellate state supreme court cases involving the constitutionality of federal laws or treaties. Martin v. Hunter's Lessee’s origins lay in 300,000 acres of land in Virginia's “Northern Neck” region, which Charles II of England had granted to the Fairfax family in 1649. In 1776, when the American colonies declared independence from Britain, many colonists—including Thomas Fairfax, the sixth Lord Fairfax—remained loyal to Britain. From 1779 to 1785, however, Virginia's legislature passed several acts confiscating Loyalist-owned lands. When Fairfax died in 1781, he willed his property to his nephew, Denny Martin. The following year, however, Virginia legislators passed an act arguing that Martin, a foreign national, could not inherit...

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Joseph Story (Library of Congress)

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