Samuel Chase (April 17, 1741 – June 19, 1811), was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and earlier was a signatory to the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Maryland. Early in life, Chase was a "firebrand" states-righter and revolutionary. His political views changed over his lifetime and in the last decades of his career he became well-known as a staunch Federalist, and was impeached for allegedly letting his partisan leanings affect his court decisions. Chase was acquitted.
His father a clergyman who immigrated to Somerset County to take up a new pulpit. Samuel was educated at home. He was eighteen when he left for Annapolis where he studied law under attorney John Hall. He was admitted to the bar in 1761 and started a law practice in Annapolis.
In 1784, Chase traveled to England to deal with Maryland's Bank of England stock, where he met Hannah Kitty, daughter of Samuel Giles, a Berkshire physician. They were married later that year and had two daughters.
In 1764, Chase was elected to the Maryland General Assembly where he served for twenty years.
He remained in the Continental Congress until 1778. The involvement of Chase in an attempt to corner the flour market, using insider information gained through his position in the Congress, resulted in his not being returned to the Continental Congress and damaging his reputation.
Chase was served with eight articles of impeachment by the House of Representatives in late 1804, one of which involved Chase's handling of the trial of John Fries. Two more focused on his conduct in the political libel trial of John Thompson Callender. Four articles focused on procedural errors made during Chase's adjudication of various matters, and an eighth was directed to his “intemperate and inflammatory … peculiarly indecent and unbecoming … highly unwarrantable … highly indecent” remarks while "charging" or authorizing a Baltimore grand jury. The Democratic-Republican-controlled United States Senate began the impeachment trial of Chase in early 1805, with Vice President Aaron Burr presiding.
All the counts involved Chase's work as a trial judge in lower circuit courts. (In that era, Supreme Court justices had the added duty of serving as individuals on circuit courts, a practice that was ended in the late 19th century.) The heart of the allegations was that political bias had led Chase to treat defendants and their counsel in a blatantly unfair manner. Chase's defense lawyers called the prosecution a political effort by his Democratic-Republican enemies. In answer to the articles of impeachment, Chase argued that all of his actions had been motivated by adherence to precedent, judicial duty to restrain advocates from improper statements of law, and considerations of judicial efficiency.
The Senate voted to acquit Chase of all charges on March 1, 1805, and he returned to his duties on the court. He is the only U.S. Supreme Court justice to have been impeached.
The acquittal of Chase -- by lopsided margins on several of the counts -- is believed to have helped ensure that an independent federal judiciary would survive partisan challenge. As Chief Justice William Rehnquist noted in his book, Grand Inquests, some people expressed opinions at the time of Chase's trial that the Senate had absolute latitude in convicting a jurist it found unfit, but the acquittal set an unofficial precedent that judges would not be impeached based on their performance on the bench. All judges impeached since Chase have been accused of outright criminality.