Calvin Pease survived impeachment as a circuit court judge by one vote for establishing the principle of judicial review that came to a head when a statute enacted by the Ohio General Assembly was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1807.
Pease was born Sept. 9, 1776, in Suffield, Conn. to Joseph and Mindwell King Pease. His father was a merchant and a public official in Suffield. Pease studied law in the office of his brother-in-law, Gideon Granger. He was admitted to the bar in Connecticut in 1798 and practiced law in New Hartford.
In 1800, Pease moved to Youngstown, then in the Northwest Territory. He was admitted to practice law in the Northwest Territory by the General Court at its term held in Marietta in October 1800. On July 10, 1800, Territorial Gov. Arthur St. Clair issued a proclamation that established Trumbull County with the town of Warren as the county seat. Pease was appointed on Aug. 25, 1800 as the clerk for the newly established Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas. The first session of the court was held outside, the judge sitting between two corn cribs with split logs thrown across for a roof. Pease served as clerk until Ohio attained statehood on March 1, 1803. In 1801, Pease was appointed the first postmaster of Youngstown when regular mail service was instituted. He moved to Warren in 1803.
On April 2, 1803, the Ohio General Assembly elected Pease as president judge of the Third Judicial Circuit for a seven-year term. Pease helped establish the principle of judicial review granting courts the right to review laws passed by the Ohio General Assembly to determine if they conflicted with the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution. The Ohio General Assembly enacted a statute in 1805, defining the duties of justices of the peace and constables. Pease found in E. Wadsworth v. Solomon Braynard, Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas (1808) that aspects of this statute violated the U.S. Constitution. Justices Samuel Huntington and George Tod similarly ruled this act was unconstitutional in Rutherford v. McFaddon (1807).
Members of the Ohio House of Representatives were so incensed by the rulings that they brought impeachment charges against Pease and Tod on Dec. 24, 1808. They believed the Court had no right to render a statute passed by the Ohio General Assembly unconstitutional. Huntington was elected governor in October 1808, so the Ohio House of Representatives did not pursue charges against him. The Ohio Constitution charged the Ohio Senate with the responsibility of determining the judgment on Tod and Pease. They were tried separately.
On Feb. 1, 1809, Pease gave his defense in front of the assembled senators at the statehouse in Chillicothe. He argued that he should not be impeached if his decision was given without malice and did not have criminal intent. In addition, the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution created three branches of government, the legislative, the judicial and the executive which were co-equal, and each branch was delegated certain powers to stop actions of the other branches they believed were not wise. He noted that the principle of judicial review was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison (1803). In an impassioned defense of the principle of judicial review, Pease argued:
“this oath (oath of office) is not a mere pompous form or words to add dignity to the office, but a substantial tie of conscience, to compel the judge to do his duty, whenever through fear, or some other cause, he might otherwise be disposed to neglect it. If the courts do not possess this power, of what use is the constitution? How are the people to obtain the rights secured to them by it, when invaded by the legislature? It is in the courts of justice that the rights of men are to be ascertained and vindicated, and if the courts are shut against them, of what avail is the constitution?”
The Ohio Senate acquitted Pease and Tod of the charges of impeachment.
Pease’s term of office as president judge of the Third Judicial Circuit expired in April 1810. With little hope the Ohio General Assembly would re-elect him to a second term, he finished his term and returned to Warren to practice law. Pease served as an agent for the U.S. Post Office beginning in 1810. He instituted post offices throughout the Northwest Territory and established mail routes. In October 1812, Pease was elected to represent Trumbull County in the Ohio Senate. He served from 1812 to 1813.
Pease was elected by the Ohio General Assembly on Feb. 17, 1816 to serve on the Supreme Court for a seven-year term. The position of Justice at this time meant extended travel under harsh conditions. Without benefit of law libraries in each county seat, Justices could not review prior decisions and formulated their opinions based on their memorized knowledge of the law. The Ohio General Assembly re-elected Pease to another seven-year term on Jan. 11, 1823, which expired on Feb. 17, 1830. Pease’s opinions are in volumes 1 through 4 of Ohio State Reports.
Returning to Warren, Pease resumed his law practice. Pease and Jared P. Kirtland represented Trumbull County in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1831 to 1832. Pease was an advocate for the passage of Kirtland’s bill to construct the Ohio Penitentiary, which was passed in March 1832. For many years, Pease also was a director and attorney for the Western Reserve Bank.
On June 2, 1804, Pease married Laura Grant Risley in Washington, D.C. She was born Nov. 30, 1786, in Rutland, Vt. to Benjamin and Eunice Risley. The Peases were the parents of seven children: Calvin, Laura, Maria, Benjamin R., Charles, Lawrence, Nancy and Cornelia G. Five lived to adulthood.
On Sept. 17, 1839, Pease died in Warren. He was survived by his wife and five children. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Warren. Laura Grant Risley died April 6, 1872 and she was buried next to her husband.
b. Sept 9, 1776
d. Sept 17, 1839
12th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio