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Moore, Alfred

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Birth: May 21, 1755, New Hanover County, North Carolina.

Education: Educated in Boston; studied law under his father; received law license, 1775.

Official Positions: Member, North Carolina legislature, 1782, 1792; attorney general, North Carolina, 1782–1791; trustee, University of North Carolina, 1789–1807; judge, North Carolina Superior Court, 1799.

Supreme Court Service: Nominated associate justice by President John Adams, December 4, 1799, to replace James Iredell, who had died; confirmed by the Senate, December 10, 1799, by a voice vote; took judicial oath April 21, 1800; resigned January 26, 1804; replaced by William Johnson, nominated by President Thomas Jefferson.

Death: October 15, 1810, Bladen County, North Carolina.

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Alfred Moore
Noteworthy Opinion

Alfred Moore

Alfred Moore is among the least-known justices ever to sit on the Supreme Court, and his lack of notoriety is well deserved. Although he played a small part in one of the most important decisions of the Court, Marbury v. Madison (1803), he himself wrote only one opinion during his four years as a justice.

Before his appointment to the Court, however, Moore had been a prominent North Carolina Federalist. After a notable career during the Revolutionary War, he served the state as a legislator and as attorney general. Most important, he successfully defended a state law that required the dismissal of all suits contesting the title of land confiscated from Tories. In doing so, he challenged the legitimacy of judicial review even though an initial verdict against him is often cited as a precedent for the Marbury decision. Moore's active support of the Federalists and his success as a treaty negotiator brought him to the attention of President John Adams, and when North Carolinian James Iredell died in 1799, Adams appointed Moore to succeed him.

The quasi-war with France provided Moore his only opportunity to draft an opinion. Bas v. Tingy (1800) arose out of the frequent seizure of American merchant ships by French privateers. A statute specified that the owner of an American ship captured by “the enemy” and recaptured after more than ninety-six hours had to pay one-half the value of the ship and its goods to the recapturer as salvage. But if the ship had not been taken by the “enemy,” the owner only had to pay one-eighth the value as salvage.

The French had captured the American ship Eliza, and twenty days later an armed American vessel recaptured her. The Court had to decide whether to consider the French an enemy within the meaning of the act. Like his colleagues, who all issued their own opinions, Moore decided that a state of war did exist between the United States and France. “And how can the characters of the parties engaged in hostilities of war, be otherwise described than by the denomination of enemies,” he asked rhetorically. The former owner of the Eliza had to pay half the value of the ship and its goods for salvage.

Moore's only other major judicial contribution came when tardiness forced him to miss the arguments in the Marbury case. As a result, he did not take part in the decision, and voiced no opinion on judicial review, even though he had resisted it as North Carolina attorney general. Chief Justice John Marshall, however, was criticized for going ahead with the case and not waiting for Moore and Justice William Cushing, who also missed the arguments.

Citing fears of ill health caused by the rigors of circuit riding, Moore resigned from the Court in 1804, creating the vacancy to which Thomas Jefferson ap-pointed the first Republican justice, William Johnson of South Carolina. Moore spent the final years of his life helping to establish the University of North Carolina.


There is practically nothing written on Moore other than the sketch by Leon Friedman in Friedman and Israel, Justices, vol. 1, 267.

Noteworthy Opinion

Bas v. Tingy, 4 U.S. 37 (1800)


Document Citation
Moore, Alfred, in Biographical Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court 369 (Melvin I. Urofsky ed., 2006),
Document ID: bioenc-427-18168-979422
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