Introduction to Judicial Review and Slavery
In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was legal in the Commonwealth. However, during the years 1781 to 1783, in three related cases known today as "the Quock Walker case," the Supreme Judicial Court applied the principle of judicial review to abolish slavery. In doing so, the Court held that laws and customs that sanctioned slavery were incompatible with the new state constitution. In the words of then-Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice William Cushing: "[S]lavery is in my judgment as effectively abolished as it can be by the granting of rights and privileges [in the constitution] wholly incompatible and repugnant to its existence." This section introduces the legal status of slavery in Massachusetts prior to 1780, the Mum Bett case of 1781, and the Quock Walker case.