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Heirs of 1790 jurist win court fight over papers

RALEIGH, N.C. — Descendants of one of the first U.S. Supreme Court justices have won a legal fight against the state of North Carolina over ownership of their ancestor’s historic papers, which are potentially worth millions.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Tuesday that the heirs of James Iredell own the documents loaned to the state archives more than 100 years ago.

A state jurist from Edenton, Justice Iredell was nominated by President George Washington to the then-new Supreme Court in 1790. The collection also includes the papers of his son, James Iredell Jr., a North Carolina governor and U.S. senator.

Justice Iredell’s heirs had previously offered to let the state keep the documents for $3 million. Lawyers for the state argued unsuccessfully the family’s claim to the papers had long ago expired.

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