Thomas Todd served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1807 to 1826. Trained as a land surveyor and as a lawyer, Todd's handful of opinions on the Court mostly concerned land claims.
Todd was born in King and Queen County, Virginia, on January 23, 1765. As a teenager, he served briefly in the Revolutionary War before attending Liberty Hall, now called Washington and Lee University. Todd studied surveying before moving to Kentucky (which was then part of Virginia) in 1784, after his first cousin, Harry Innes, was appointed to the Kentucky district of the Virginia Supreme Court. Todd was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1788, but he gained positions of influence by becoming a recorder.
Todd was the clerk for the ten conventions called between 1784 and 1792 to arrange Kentucky's
separation from Virginia. He served as clerk to the federal district court in Kentucky (1789–1792), clerk of the Kentucky House of Representatives (1792), and clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals (1792–1799). When the Kentucky Supreme Court was created in 1799, Todd was named as its first chief clerk. Two years later, he was named as a judge on that court.
Todd proved adept at resolving the land disputes created by the complicated law that Kentucky had inherited from Virginia. In 1806, he was named chief judge of the Kentucky Supreme Court but served only briefly in that position.
In 1807, the U.S. Supreme Court was expanded to seven members. The western states (i.e., Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio) urged President THOMAS JEFFERSON to nominate Todd to the new seat, as the new justice would be responsible for presiding as a judge in the newly established Seventh Circuit. Jefferson agreed and nominated Todd in early 1807. Todd took his seat in 1808.
During his time on the Court, Todd served under Chief Justice JOHN MARSHALL. Although they had different political beliefs, Todd adopted Marshall's views on constitutional construction. Todd's knowledge of land laws made him a valuable member of the Court, even though he wrote very few opinions. His absence from the Court for six terms because of illness, family matters, and the difficulty of traveling to Washington also diminished his effectiveness. Todd died on February 7, 1826, in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Cushman, Clare, ed. 1995. The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies 1789–1995. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.
Lewis, Thomas T., and Richard L. Wilson, eds. 2001. Encyclopedia of the U.S. Supreme Court. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press.