Alfred Moore was a North Carolina judge who became a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Moore Square, a park located in the Moore Square Historic District in Raleigh, North Carolina was named in his honor. Moore County, established in 1784, also in the state of North Carolina, is named in his honor.
Moore was born on May 21, 1755, in New Hanover County, North Carolina. Moore’s father, Maurice, preceded him in the practice of law and served as a colonial judge in North Carolina. Alfred was sent to Boston to complete his education, but he returned to North Carolina and read law as an apprentice to his father before being admitted to the bar at the age of twenty.
Portrait of Justice Alfred Moore. No artist information available.
In 1775 the American Revolution broke out and Alfred served as a captain in the First Regiment, North Carolina Line, of which his uncle, James Moore, was colonel, and took part in the defense of Charleston, S.C. in June 1776. He resigned in 1777, but served in the militia against Cornwallis after the Battle of Guilford Court House. The war was costly to the Moore family. British troops captured the Moore plantation and burned the family home, and Alfred’s father, brother, and an uncle were among those who served and died.
At the end of the war Moore was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly, which eventually elected him to serve as Attorney General; a position he held from 1782 to 1791. As Attorney General in 1787 he argued the State’s case in Bayard v. Singleton [I NC (Mart) 5], which as decided (against the State) became an important early instance of the application of judicial review. Moore was an ardent Federalist favoring a strong national government and he took a leading role in securing North Carolina’s ratification of the United States Constitution after the state had initially rejected it in 1788. After North Carolina’s admission to the Union as the 12th state, Moore worked as a lawyer, was active in political affairs, and served as a judge of the superior court in 1798 and 1799.  He served in the North Carolina State legislature, but lost by a single vote in his run for the United States Senate.
Moore was nominated by President John Adams to a seat vacated by James Iredell. Moore’s service was terminated on January 26, 1804, due to resignation.
In 1799, Associate Justice James Iredell died suddenly. On December 4, 1799, President Adams responded to the vacancy by nominating Moore, who was then confirmed by the United States Senate on December 10, 1799, receiving his commission the same day. At 4 feet 5 inches tall he is the shortest justice ever to sit on the Supreme Court and, due to poor health, Moore’s contribution to the court was abbreviated. In his five years of service he wrote only one opinion, Bas v. Tingy, upholding a conclusion that France was an enemy in the undeclared Quasi-War of 1798–1799. Moore’s scant contribution led one Court observer to place him atop a list of the worst justices in the history of the Court.
In the early 1780s, he married Suzanne Eagles. After leaving the Supreme Court in 1804, he helped found the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He died in Bladen County, North Carolina, on October 15, 1810. Moore was buried at the St. Philip’s Church at Winnabow, North Carolina, near Wilmington.
The inscription on his gravestone reads:
ALFRED MOORE. BORN MAY 21, 1755-DIED OCT.15, 1810. CAPTAIN IN THE FIRST CONTINENTAL LINE 1775-1777, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NORTH CAROLINA 1792-1798, JUDGE OF THE SUPERIOR COURT 1798-1799, JUSTICE OF THE U.S.SUPREME COURT 1799-1804. A GRANDSON OF THE FOUNDER OF BRUNSWICK. HIS REMAINS WERE REMOVED FROM THEIR FORMER RESTING PLACE TO THIS PLACE IN MAY 1905 BY THE NORTH CAROLINA SOCIETY OF THE COLONIAL DAMES OF AMERICA. THIS STONE IS PLACED BY THE ALFRED MOORE CHAPTER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, IN CO-OPERATION WITH THE MOORE COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION IN OCTOBER, 1962.
His summer home, Moorefields, built around 1785 in Orange County, North Carolina near Hillsborough, still stands, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
- Bernard Schwartz, “Ten Worst Supreme Court Justices”, A Book of Legal Lists (1997)