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Duvall, Gabriel

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Significance: During his twenty-three year tenure on the Supreme Court, Duvall sided with Chief Justice John Marshall on most well-known decisions. Duvall favored a strong central government and nationalist interpretation of the Constitution.


Duvall had a multifaceted career. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1778. He served as a soldier in the Maryland militia during the Revolutionary War. He was clerk of the Maryland House of Delegates in 1777 and was elected a member in 1787. He served until 1794 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; he was reelected in 1796 when he resigned to become chief justice of the General Court of Maryland. Duvall was then appointed comptroller of the treasury by President Thomas Jefferson, serving under Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin until 1811, when he was nominated by President James Madison to the Supreme Court. Most notable for agreeing with Chief Justice John Marshall and the minority in Ogden v. Saunders (1827), when the majority ruled that states could discharge debts as long as they did not affect contracts predating state relief laws, Duvall also was noted for opposing Marshall in Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), which limited state legislative power. Duvall is also remembered for the unanimous opinion he wrote in LeGrand v. Darnall (1829), in which property left to a slave brought about the freeing of that slave. Duvall's health declined in later years. Upon hearing that President Andrew Jackson intended to appoint a fellow Marylander, Roger Brooke Taney, to the Court, Duvall resigned in January, 1835. He lived another nine years in retirement.