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Jessup Nash Couch

The son of Simon and Eleanor Nash Couch, Jessup Nash Couch was born in Redding, Conn. on Aug. 3, 1778 and educated in the local schools before entering Yale College at the beginning of his sophomore year. He graduated from Yale in 1802 and was awarded the Berkeley Scholarship. Following graduation, he remained in New Haven for two years teaching school with fellow graduate Levi Hubbard Clarke and studying law in the offices of Judge Charles Chauncey.

Before passing the Connecticut bar, Couch left New Haven and traveled 1,056 miles on horseback to Chillicothe, Ohio. After his arrival, Couch continued to prepare for a legal career by reading law in a Chillicothe law office. Also, he attended sessions of the Ohio General Assembly. On Feb. 23, 1805, Couch was admitted to the Ohio bar and later that year, he established a law practice in Chillicothe that he maintained until his death. In addition to his law practice, Couch engaged in speculation in Virginia Military District lands in Fayette and Ross counties.

Ross County voters elected Couch to the Ohio House of Representatives in October 1808, and he served from December 1808 to March 1809. In 1809, Couch began his tenure on the board of trustees of Ohio University, a position he held for life. In 1810, Couch traveled the Middle Judicial Circuit with his law office partner and president judge John Thompson. Couch represented clients in chancery and appellate cases.

In 1811, Couch unsuccessfully petitioned Gov. Return Meigs Jr. for an appointment as a prosecuting attorney. During the War of 1812, Couch served as aide-de-camp to Gov. Meigs and bore dispatches from the governor to Ohio Militia Gen. Duncan McArthur and U.S. Army Gen. William Hull. Couch also served in the militia during the war as quartermaster in the Second Division. He continued in his quartermaster post until 1817, when he submitted his resignation to Gov. Worthington.

On July 25, 1815, after the Ohio General Assembly adjourned, Gov. Worthington appointed Couch to the Supreme Court of Ohio to replace Justice Thomas Scott, who submitted his resignation that same day. Couch was to serve on the Court until the next session of the Ohio General Assembly convened when a permanent replacement would be chosen. The General Assembly elected Couch on Feb. 17, 1816 to continue on the Court and Gov. Worthington commissioned Couch, John McLean and Calvin Pease on Feb. 20 to serve as Justices. Couch served as Chief justice in 1818. The opinions of Couch and his fellow Justices were reported only in the newspapers of the time, primarily the Chillicothe Scioto Gazette, the Cincinnati Liberty Hall and Cincinnati Gazette and the Western Herald and Steubenville Gazette.

In his opinion in the case of Michael Johnston v. Joseph England, James Larimore, and Charles Foster (1817, unreported) Couch declared that an election official who exercises discretion in carrying out duties specified in Ohio statutes regulating elections is not personally liable for those actions if the evidence shows the official’s actions were governed by attempts to carry out the duties properly. Couch, in his opinion, also found that Ohio statutes requiring electors to be U.S. citizens were not in conflict with sections of the Ohio Constitution that applied to voter eligibility because the framers of Ohio’s Constitution intended for eligible Ohio electors be U.S. citizens. Couch came to this conclusion by noting that Articles 1, 2 and 6 of the 1802 Ohio Constitution contained language stating that U.S. citizens will choose state representatives and that electors eligible to select representatives will elect state senators, a governor and certain county officials.

Couch also noted that the Ohio Constitution required town and township officers be chosen by inhabitants qualified to vote in those localities. To Couch, these provisions, when taken as a whole, made citizenship a necessary qualification for voting. Couch stated in his opinion that statutes on voter eligibility were made for the public good and should be construed by the courts to be compliant with Ohio’s Constitution. Couch buttressed his opinion by citing portions of Giles Jacob’s A New Law Dictionary (1773) and Sir William Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Law and Constitution of England”: “One part of a statute must be so construed by another, that the whole may if possible stand, ut res magis valeat, quam pereat (that the matter may have effect, rather than fail). Couch wrote that by applying this rule of construction, the different sections of the constitution could be reconciled. To Couch, this argument applied to Ohio’s statutes generally. Further, Couch found the plea of the three defendants must be supported, and the Court rendered a judgment against the plaintiff, Michael Johnston, requiring him to pay the costs of the suit.

Couch, who never married, died in office on June 30, 1821, from consumption, little more than one month shy of his 43rd birthday.

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10th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio

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