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Thompson, Smith

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Significance: As a Supreme Court justice, Thompson defended states’ rights against the power of the federal government. He also defended the right of groups of Native Americans to be considered sovereign nations.


Thompson began practicing law in 1793 and served on the New York State supreme court from 1802 to 1818. President James Monroe appointed him secretary of the navy in 1818 and nominated him to the Supreme Court on December 8, 1823. He was confirmed by the Senate on December 19 and took office on February 10, 1824. In Ogden v. Saunders (1827), Thompson joined with the majority in defending the right of a state to follow its own rather than federal bankruptcy laws, until the two systems actually conflicted. In Kendall v. United States ex rel. Stokes (1838), Thompson wrote the majority opinion, upholding the right of a District of Columbia court to order an official of the executive branch to perform a duty. This decision limited the authority of the president. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), Thompson dissented from the majority by regarding the Cherokee as a sovereign nation, with the right to be heard in the Court. Although initially rejected, this idea was soon accepted by the Court in Worcester v. Georgia (1832).