Briscoe v. Bank of the Commonwealth of Kentucky


Significance: Reflecting Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney's bias toward states’ rights, the Supreme Court allowed a state-owned bank to issue notes for public circulation as legal tender.

The U.S. Constitution prohibited states from issuing bills of credit, but the exact meaning of the term was unclear. In Craig v. Missouri (1830), the Supreme Court ruled that interest-bearing certificates issued by a state were unconstitutional bills of credit. In Briscoe v. Bank of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, however, the justices voted six to one to allow a state-owned bank to issue circulating notes. Justice John McLean wrote for the Court that the notes at issue were not unconstitutional because they were not issued directly by the state or backed by the faith and credit of the state. The justices at the time were very sensitive to the rights of the states and recognized the need for a circulating medium following the demise of the Bank of the United States. The decision allowed for greater state controls over banking and currency in the years before the Civil War.