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Most Humble Servants - Jay, Stewart - Yale University Press
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Most Humble Servants

The Advisory Role of Early Judges

  • Stewart Jay
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Out of Print.


It has long been assumed that throughout the history of the United States, the role of judges was limited to adjudicating cases and did not include performing other official functions for the executive and legislative branches of government. This book challenges that assumption, investigating the variety of duties judges performed until the end of the eighteenth century and exploring why a new separation of powers developed only after 1793.

Stewart Jay shows that early judges in both the United States and Great Britain provided extrajudicial advisory opinions to the executive, took administrative assignments, assisted in legislative drafting, and even held offices in other branches of government. In 1793, however, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to answer the Washington administration’s request for legal advice on American treaty relations with France. Jay argues that if we take into consideration late eighteenth-century theories of separation of powers and the probable intent of the Framers of the Constitution, no significant constitutional barriers prevented the Court from answering Washington’s questions. The actual reasons for the Court’s refusal were more related to the practical consequences that would result if the Justices issued a formal advisory opinion during a foreign policy crisis. Similarly, says Jay, British judges of the same period also abandoned advisory opinions owing to pragmatic concerns. Jay thus offers a revisionary accoun of the 1793 political-legal crisis, a landmark event in the formation of the American judiciary and the doctrine of separation of powers.

Stewart Jay is professor of law at the University of Washington School of Law.

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