Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

Section 34 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 provides that “the laws of the several states, except where the Constitution, treaties or statutes of the United States shall otherwise recognize or provide” were to be applied and followed “as rules of decision in trials at common law.” George Swift, a Maine resident, was assigned a bill of exchange from John Tyson in New York.  The bill was dishonored when it became due, and Swift brought a diversity action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking payment.  New York common law held that bills of exchange could not be assigned, and the federal court found in Tyson’s favor on that basis.  Swift appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and the main issue before the court was whether the reference to “the laws of the several states” in Section 34 included common law decisions as well as enacted statutes.

Read more