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Todd, Thomas

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Significance: Supreme Court justice Todd was an authority on land law and supported the power of the federal government over the states.


Todd moved to Kentucky, then part of Virginia, in 1784. When Kentucky became a state in 1792, he was chosen as clerk of the legislature. He became clerk of the state supreme court in 1799, was appointed a judge on the court in 1801, and became its chief justice in 1806. President Thomas Jefferson nominated him to the Supreme Court on February 28, 1807. He was confirmed by the Senate on March 3 and took office on May 4. Todd wrote only twelve opinions, all but one dealing with land law, in which he was an expert. In Vowles v. Craig (1814), Todd decided that a seller could not reclaim land after it had been sold, even if the original survey had been in error. In Preston v. Browder (1816), he upheld the right of a state to restrict land claims within Native American territory. In Robinson v. Campbell (1818), he denied a state the power to question the validity of previously established land titles. In addition to this specialty, Todd supported Chief Justice John Marshall in a series of important cases that established the authority of the federal government over the states.