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Clark, James

Posted by MarthaCrossSargent 
Clark, James
March 16, 2007 02:08PM
Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky, by H. Levin, editor, 1897. Published
by Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago. Reprinted by Southern Historical
Press. p. 68. Clark County.

JAMES CLARK, one of the judges of the court of appeals and governor of
Kentucky, was born near the Peaks of Otter, in Virginia, in 1779. His
father emigrated to Kentucky and settled near Kentucky river, in Clark
county. He was educated under the supervision of Dr. Blythe, afterward
a professor in Transylvania University, studied law with his brother,
Christian Clark, a distinguished lawyer of Virginia, and returned to
practice at Winchester, Kentucky, in 1797. He was a member of the
legislature in 1807 and 1808, and was appointed judge of the court of
appeals March 29, 1810, but resigned after two years' service. He was
elected to congress from his district, serving from 1813 to 1816, when he
resigned to accept the office of circuit judge, and while serving in this
position in 1822 his decision in the case of Williams versus Blair,
wherein he declared certain laws intended as stay laws for the benefit
of debtors to be unconstitutional, caused such dissatisfaction as to
call forth from the legislature, convened in extra session, a resolution
of condemnation. The committee appointed to inquire into the decision of
the judge, on the 21st of May, 1822, reported as follows: "The principles
and doctrines assumed in this opinion are incompatible with the
constitutional powers of the legislative department of the government,
subversive of the best interests of the people and calculated in their
consequences to disturb the tranquility of the country and to shake public
confidence in the institutions and measures of the government, called for
by the conditions and necessities of the people." Five hundred copies
of the report were ordered printed, and Judge Clark was summoned to appear
before the house and answer to the charge.
On the 27th of May, 1822, Judge Clark made answer in writing, as
"In pronouncing a law that is incompatible with the constitution
void, the judiciary does not assume a superiority over the legislature.
It merely affirms the paramount obligation of the fundamental rule.
It announces only that the will of the people, as expressed in their
constitution, is above the will of any of the servants of the people.
The decision was given after the most mature deliberation which I was
able to bestow and from a firm conviction of the principles there
mentioned, and I must have been not only faithless to my conscience,
but to the constitution of the United States and the dignity due the
judicial office had I expressed any other opinion."
The reply was altogether manly but did not avert or appease
legislative wrath. The legislature invoked the remedy of address to
remove the judge from the bench, but the lack of a two-thirds majority
caused the proceedings to fail. In October, 1823, the case of Williams
versus Blair was sustained as decided by Judge Clark in the court of
appeals and transferred from the circuit judge to the higher court the
rage of the legislature, and they attempted to legislate the court of
appeals out of office, thus inaugurating the contest of the old and
new court.
Judge Clark was elected to congress, serving from 1825 to 1831, and
in 1836 he was elected governor, dying while in office, September 27,
1839. He was a lawyer of fine capacity and undoubted integrity, of fair
literary attainments, for his day, of fine appearance, ready wit, lively
disposition and easy address. To the lighter graces he added all the
sterner and manly virtues that inspire confidence and command respect.

Clark Blythe

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