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November 30

"Ought the seditious and official attack [by Chase] on the principles of our Constitution . . . to go unpunished? " ~ US President Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Congressman Joseph Hopper Nicholson of Maryland

Impeachment of Samuel Chase leads to conviction in the SenateBetween 1796 and 1801, in the course of the furious political content between the Federalists, led by President John Adams, and the Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, the Supreme Court had become "openly what it had already been at heart, a political organ of the Federalist Party" ~ The Trials of Mr. Justice Samuel Chase, Robert R. Bair and Robin D. Coblentz

in 1806, Jeffersonians sharply curbed the improper conduct - or independence of the judiciary, depending upon your point of view, taking a further step forward in the divisive partisanship that had been gripping Washington D.C. for over a decade. Following the Impeachment of Samuel Chase not only Supreme Court Justices but all the lower courts as well would be forced to bend to the wishes of Congress and President or face expulsion.

With VP Aaron Burr presiding, the Democratic-Republican-controlled Senate begins an impeachment trial on eight individual counts, but the heart of the allegations was that political bias had led Federalist Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase to treat defendants and their counsel in a blatantly unfair manner. On the occasion of the trial of Thomas Cooper, praised by Jefferson as "one of the ablest men in America", Chase had taken the air of a prosecutor rather than a judge making a series of strong attacks upon Cooper who had been indicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts.

The conviction of Chase - a Washington appointee - the following March would not only remove him from office but more importantly set the precedence that judicial activism will not be tolerated. The fortunes of the Anti-Federalist political faction would also take a boost. From the outset of Jefferson's second term the Federal Court system would be placed under the political sway of the party that had control of Congress and the White House. Across the country, Judges at all levels would have their judicial performance scrutinised politically and the sword of impeachment and removal would hang over their heads.

Author's Note: in reality the Senate voted to acquit Chase of all charges and he remains the only Supreme Court justice to have ever been impeached.