STEPHEN V. R. ABLEMAN, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR, v.
Mr. Chief Justice TANEY delivered the opinion of the court.
The plaintiff in error in the
first of these cases is the marshal of the
Sherman M. Booth was charged before Winfield Smith, a commissioner duly appointed by the District Court of the United States for the district of Wisconsin, with having, on the 11th day of March, 1854, aided and abetted, at Milwaukee, in the said district, the escape of a fugitive slave from the deputy marshal, who had him in custody under a warrant issued by the district judge of the United States for that district, under the act of Congress of September 18, 1850.
Upon the examination before the commissioner, he was satisfied that an offence had been committed as charged, and that there was probable cause to believe that Booth had been guilty of it; and thereupon held him to bail to appear and answer before the District Court of the United States for the [***4] district of Wisconsin, on the first Monday in July then next ensuing. But on the 26th of May his bail or surety in the recognisance delivered him to the marshal, in the presence of the commissioner, and requested the commissioner to recommit Booth to the custody of the marshal; and he having failed to recognise again for his appearance before the District Court, the commissioner committed him to the custody of the marshal, to be delivered to the keeper of the jail until he should be discharged by due course of law.
Booth made application on the next day, the 27th of May, [*508] to A. D. Smith, one of the justices of the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin, for a writ of habeas corpus, stating that he was restrained of his liberty by Stephen V. R. Ableman, marshal of the United States for that district, under the warrant of commitment hereinbefore mentioned; and alleging that his imprisonment was illegal, because the act of Congress of September 18, 1850, was unconstitutional and void; and also that the warrant was defective, and did not describe the offence created by that act, even if the act were valid.
Upon this application, the justice, on the same day, issued [***5] the writ of habeas corpus, directed to the marshal, requiring him forthwith to have the body of Booth before him, (the said justice,) together with the time and cause of his imprisonment. The marshal thereupon, on the day above mentioned, produced Booth, and made his return, stating that he was received into his custody as marshal on the day before, and held in custody by virtue of the warrant of the commissioner above mentioned, a copy of which he annexed to and returned with the writ.
To this return Booth demurred, as not sufficient in law to justify his detention. And upon the hearing the justice decided that his detention was illegal, and ordered the marshal to discharge him and set him at liberty, which was accordingly done.
Afterwards, on the 9th of June, in the same year, the marshal applied to the Supreme Court of the State for a certiorari, setting forth in his [**171] application the proceedings hereinbefore mentioned, and charging that the release of Booth by the justice was erroneous and unlawful, and praying that this proceedings might be brought before the Supreme Court of the State for revision.
The certiorari was allowed on the same day; and [***6] the writ was accordingly issued on the 12th of the same month, and returnable on the third Tuesday of the month; and on the 20th the return was made by the justice, stating the proceedings, as hereinbefore mentioned.
The case was argued before the Supreme Court of the State, and on the 19th of July it pronounced its judgment, affirming [*509] the decision of the associate justice discharging Booth from imprisonment, with costs against Ableman, the marshal.
Afterwards, on the 26th of October, the marshal sued out a writ of error, returnable to this court on the first Monday of December, 1854, in order to bring the judgment here for revision; and the defendant in error was regularly cited to appear on that day; and the record and proceedings were certified to this court by the clerk of the State court in the usual form, in obedience to the writ of error. And on the 4th of December, Booth, the defendant in error, filed a memorandum in writing in this court, stating that he had been cited to appear here in this case, and that he submitted it to the judgment of this court on the reasoning in the argument and opinions in the printed pamphlets therewith sent.
After the judgment [***7] was entered in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, and before the writ of error was sued out, the State court entered on its record, that, in the final judgment it had rendered, the validity of the act of Congress of September 18, 1850, and of February 12, 1793, and the authority of the marshal to hold the defendant in his custody, under the process mentioned in his return to the writ of habeas corpus, were respectively drawn in question, and the decision of the court in the final judgment was against their validity, respectively.
This certificate was not necessary to give this court jurisdiction, because the proceedings upon their face show that these questions arose, and how they were decided; but it shows that at that time the Supreme Court of Wisconsin did not question their obligation to obey the writ of error, nor the authority of this court to re-examine their judgment in the cases specified. And the certificate is given for the purpose of placing distinctly on the record the points that were raised and decided in that court, in order that this court might have no difficulty in exercising its appellate power, and pronouncing its judgment upon all of them.
We come now to [***8] the second case. At the January term of the District Court of the United States for the district of Wisconsin, after Booth had been set at liberty, and after the transcript of the proceedings in the case above mentioned had been [*510] returned to and filed in this court, the grand jury found a bill of indictment against Booth for the offence with which he was charged before the commissioner, and from which the State court had discharged him. The indictment was found on the 4th of January, 1855. On the 9th a motion was made, counsel on behalf of the accused, to quash the indictment, which was overruled by the court; and he thereupon pleaded not guilty, upon which issue was joined. On the 10th a jury was called and appeared in court, when he challenged the array; but the challenge was overruled and the jury empanelled. The trial, it appears, continued from day to day, until the 13th, when the jury found him guilty in the manner and form in which he stood indicted in the fourth and fifth counts. On the 16th he moved for a new trial and in arrest of judgment, which motions were argued on the 20th, and on the 23d the court overruled the motions, and sentenced the prisoner to [***9] be imprisoned for one month, and to pay a fine of $ 1,000 and the costs of prosecution; and that he remain in custody until the sentence was complied with.
We have stated more particularly these proceedings, from a sense of justice to the District Court, as they show that every opportunity of making his defence was afforded him, and that his case was fully heard and considered.
On the 26th of January, three days after the sentence was passed, the prisoner by his counsel filed his petition in the Supreme Court of the State, and with his petition filed a copy of the proceedings in the District Court, and also affidavits from the foreman and one other member of the jury who tried him, stating that their verdict was, guilty on the fourth and fifth counts, and not guilty on the other three; and stated in his petition that his imprisonment was illegal, because the fugitive slave law was unconstitutional; that the District Court had no jurisdiction to try or punish him for the matter charged against him, and that the proceedings and sentence of that court were absolute nullities in law. Various other objections to the proceedings are alleged, which are unimportant in the questions now [***10] before the court, and need not, therefore, be particularly stated. On the next day, the 27th, the court directed [*511] two writs of habeas corpus to be issued -- one to the marshal, and one to the sheriff of Milwaukee, to whose actual keeping the prisoner was committed by the marshal, by order of the District Court. The habeas corpus directed each of them to produce the body of the prisoner, and make known the cause of his imprisonment, immediately after the receipt of the writ.
On the 30th of January the marshal made his return, not acknowledging the jurisdiction, but stating the sentence of the District Court as his authority; that the prisoner was delivered to, and was then in the actual keeping of the sheriff of Milwaukee county, by order of the court, and he therefore had no control of the body of the prisoner; and if the sheriff had not received him, he should have so reported to the District Court, and should have conveyed him to some other place or prison, as the court should command.
On the same day the sheriff produced the body of Booth before the State court, and returned that he had been committed to his custody by the marshal, by virtue of a transcript, [***11] a true copy of which was annexed to his return, and which was the only process or authority by which he detained him.
This transcript was a full copy of
the proceedings and sentence in the District Court of [**172] the
The court ordered the hearing to
be postponed until the 2d of February, and notice to be given to the district
attorney of the
On the 21st of April next following, the Attorney General of the United States presented a petition to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, stating briefly the facts in the case, and at the same time presenting an exemplification of the proceedings hereinbefore stated, duly certified by the clerk of the State court, and averring in his petition that the State court had no [*512] jurisdiction in the case, and praying that [***12] a writ of error might issue to bring its judgment before this court to correct the error. The writ of error was allowed and issued, and, according to the rules and practice of the court, was returnable on the first Monday of December, 1855, and a citation for the defendant in error to appear on that day was issued by the Chief Justice at the same time.
No return having been made to this writ, the Attorney General, on the 1st of February, 1856, filed affidavits, showing that the writ of error had been duly served on the clerk of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, at his office, on the 30th of May, 1855, and the citation served on the defendant in error on the 28th of June, in the same year. And also the affidavit of the district attorney of the United States for the district of Wisconsin, setting forth that when he served the writ of error upon the clerk, as above mentioned, he was informed by the clerk, and has also been informed by one of the justices of the Supreme Court, which released Booth, "that the court had directed the clerk to make no return to the writ of error, and to enter no order upon the journals or records of the court concerning the same." And, upon these proofs, [***13] the Attorney General movid the court for an order upon the clerk to make return to the writ of error, on or before the first day of the next ensuing term of this court. The rule was accordingly laid, and on the 22d of July, 1856, the Attorney General filed with the clerk of this court the affidavit of the marshal of the district of Wisconsin, that he had served the rule on the clerk on the 7th of the month above mentioned; and no return having been made, the Attorney General, on the 27th of February, 1857, moved for leave to file the certified copy of the record of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, which he had produced with his application for the writ of error, and to docket the case in this court, in conformity with a motion to that effect made at the last term. And the court thereupon, on the 6th of March, 1857, ordered the copy of the record filed by the Attorney General to be received and entered on the docket of this court, to have the same effect and legal operation as if returned by the clerk with the writ of error, and that the case stand for argument [*513] at the next ensuing term, without further notice to either party.
The case was accordingly docketed, but was [***14] not reached for argument in the regular order and practice of the court until the present term.
This detailed statement of the
proceedings in the different courts has appeared to be necessary in order to
form a just estimate of the action of the different tribunals in which it has
been heard, and to account for the delay in the final decision of a case,
which, from its character, would seem to have demanded prompt action. The first case, indeed, was reached for trial
two terms ago. But as to two cases are
different portions of the same prosecution for the same offence, they
unavoidably, to some extent, involve the same principles of law, and it would
hardly have been proper to hear and decide the first before the other was ready
for hearing and decision. They have
accordingly been argued together, by the Attorney General of the
It will be seen, from the foregoing statement of facts, that a judge of the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin in the first of these cases, claimed and exercised the right to supervise and annul the proceedings of a commissioner of the United States, and to discharge a prisoner, who had been committed by the commissioner for an offence against the laws of this Government, and that this exercise of power by the judge was afterwards sanctioned and affirmed by the Supreme Count of the State.
In the second case, the State Court has gone a step further, and claimed and exercised jurisdiction over the proceedings and judgment of a District Court of the United States, and upon a summary and collateral proceeding, by habeas corpus, [*514] has set aside and annulled its judgment, and discharged a prisoner who had been tried and found guilty of an offence against the laws of the United States, and sentenced to imprisonment by the District Court.
And it further appears that the State court have not only claimed and exercised this jurisdiction, but have also determined that their decision is final and conclusive [***16] upon all the courts of the United States, and ordered their clerk to disregard and refuse obedience to the writ of error issued by this court, pursuant to the act of Congress of 1789, to bring here for examination and revision the judgment of the State court.
These propositions are new in the
jurisprudence of the
The supremacy is not, indeed, set forth distinctly and broadly, in so many words, in the printed opinions of the judges. It is intermixed [**173] with elaborate discussions of different provisions in the fugitive slave law, and of the privileges and power of the writ of habeas corpus. But the paramount power of the State court lies at the foundation of these decisions; for their commentaries upon the provisions of that law, and upon the privileges and power of the writ of habeas corpur, were out of place, and their judicial action upon them without authority of law, unless they had the power [***17] to revise and control the proceedings in the criminal case of which they were speaking; and their judgments, releasing the prisoner, and disregarding the writ of error from this court, can rest upon no other foundation.
If the judicial power exercised in this instance has been reserved to the States, no offence against the laws of the United States can be punished by their own courts, without the permission and according to the judgment of the courts of the State in which the party happens to be imprisoned; for, if the Supreme Court of Wisconsin Possessed the power it has exercised in relation to offences against the act of Congress in question, [*515] it necessarily follows that they must have the same judicial authority in relation to any other law of the United States; and, consequently, their supervising and controlling power would embrace the whole criminal code of the United States, and extend to offences against our revenue laws, or any other law intended to guard the different departments of the General Government from fraud or violence. And it would embrace all cirmes, from the highest to the lowest; including felonies, which are punished with death, as well as misdemeanors, [***18] which are punished by imprisonment. And, moreover, if the power is possessed by the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin, it must belong equally to every other State in the Union, when the prisoner is within its territorial limits; and it is very certain that the State courts would not always agree in opinion; and it would often happen, that an act which was admitted to be an offence, and justly punished, in one State, would be regarded as innocent, and indeed as praiseworth, in another.
It would seem to be hardly necessary to do more than state the result to which these decisions of the State courts must inevitably lead. It is, of itself, a sufficient and conclusive answer; for no one will suppose that a Government which has now lasted nearly seventy years, enforcing its laws by its own tribunals, and preserving the union of the States, could have lasted a single year, or fulfilled the high trusts committed to it, if offences against its laws could not have been punished without the consent of the State in which the culprit was found.
The judges of the Supreme Court of
Wisconsin do not distinctly state from what source they suppose they have
derived this judicial power. There [***19]
can be no such thing as judicial authority, unless it is conferred by a
Government or sovereignty; and if the judges and courts of Wisconsin possess
the jurisdiction they claim, they must derive it either from the United States
or the State. It certainly has not been
conferred on them by the United States; and it is equally clear it was not in
the power of the State to confer it, even if it had attempted to do so; for no
State can authorize one of its judges [*516]
or courts to exercise judicial power, by habeas corpus or
otherwise, within the jurisdiction of another and independent Government. And although the State of
It is, however, due to the State
to say, that we do not find this claim of paramount jurisdiction in the State
courts over the courts of the
"1st. By virtue of process, by any court or judge
"2d. By virtue of the final judgment or decree of any competent court of civil or criminal jurisdiction." (Revised Statutes of the State of Wisconsin, 1849, ch. 124, page 629.) [***21]
Even, therefore, if these cases
depended upon the laws of
But, as we have already said,
questions of this kind must
[*517] always depend upon
the Constitution and laws of the
The language of the Constitution, by which this power is granted, is too plaint to admit of doubt or to need comment. It declares that "this Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be passed in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."
But the supremacy thus conferred
on this Government could not peacefully be maintained, unless it was clothed
with judicial power, equally paramount in authority to carry it into execution;
for if left to the courts of justice of the several [***23] States, conflicting decisions would
unavoidably take place, and the local tribunals could hardly be expected to be
always free [*518] from the local influences of which we have
spoken. And the Constitution and laws
and treaties of the
Accordingly, it was conferred on
the General Government, in clear, precise, and comprehensive terms. It is declared that its judicial power shall
(among other subjects enumerated) extend to all cases in law and equity arising
under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and that in such cases, as
well as the others there enumerated, this court shall have appellate
jurisdiction both as to law and fact, with such exceptions and under such
regulations as Congress shall make. The
appellate power, it will be observed, is conferred on this court in all cases
or suits in which such a question shall arise.
It is not confined to suits in the inferior courts of the
The importance which the framers
of the Constitution attached to such a tribunal, for the purpose of preserving
internal tranquillity, is strikingly manifested by
the clause which gives this court jurisdiction over the sovereign States which
The same purposes are clearly
indicated by the different language employed when conferring supremacy upon the
laws of the
The Constitution has accordingly
provided, as far as human foresight coule provide,
against this danger. And in conferring
judicial power upon the Federal Government, it declares that the jurisdiction
of its courts shall extend to all cases arising under "this
Constitution" and the laws of the
This judicial power was justly
regarded as indispensable, not merely to maintain the supremacy of the laws of
In organizing [***29] such a tribunal, it
is evident that every precaution was taken, which human wisdom could devise, to
fit it for the high duty with which it was intrusted. It was not left to Congress to create it by
law; for the States could hardly be expected to confide in the impartiality of
a tribunal created exclusively by the General Government, without any
participation on their part. And as the performance of its duty would sometimes come in conflict
with individual ambition or interests, and powerful political combinations, an
act of Congress establishing such a tribunal might be repealed in order to
establish another more subservient to the predominant political influences or
excited passions of the day. This
tribunal, therefore, was erected, and the powers of which we have spoken
conferred upon it, not by the Federal Government, but by the people of the
States, who formed and adopted that Government, and conferred upon it all the
powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, which it now possesses. And in order to secure its independence, and
enable it faithfully and firmly to perform its duty, it engrafted it upon the
Constitution itself, and declared that this court should have appellate [***30] power in all cases
arising under the Constitution and laws of the
These principles of constitutional law are confirmed and illustrated by the clause which confers legislative power upon Congress. That power is specifically given in article 1, section 8, paragraph 18, in the following words:
"To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper to carry into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof."
Under this clause of the Constitution, it became the duty of Congress to pass such laws as were necessary and proper to [*522] carry into execution the powers vested in the judicial department. And in the performance of this duty, the First Congress, at its first session, passed the act of 1789, ch. 20, entitled "An act to establish the judicial courts of the United [***31] States." It will be remembered that many of the members of the Convention were also members of this Congress, and it cannot be supposed that they did not understand the meaning and intention of the great instrument which they had so anxiously and deliberately considered, clause by clause, and assisted to frame. And the law they passed to carry into execution the powers vested in the judicial department of the Government proves, past doubt, that their interpretation of the appellate powers conferred on this court was the same with that which we have now given; for by the 25th section of the act of 1789, Congress authorized writs of error to be issued from this court to a State court, whenever a right had been claimed under the Constitution or laws of the United States, and the decision of the State court was against it. And to make this appellate power effectual, and altogether independent of the action of State tribunals, this act further provides, that upon writs of error to a State court, instead of remanding the cause for a final decision in the State court, this court may at their discretion, if the cause shall have been once remanded before, proceed to a final decision of [***32] the same, and award execution.
These provisions in the act of 1789 tell us, in language not to be mistaken, the great importance which the patriots and statesmen of the First Congress attached to this appellate power, and the foresight and care with which they guarded its free and independent exercise against interference or obstruction by States or State tribunals.
In the case before the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, a right was claimed under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the decision was against the right claimed; and it refuses obedience to the writ of error, and regards it own judgment as final. It has not only reversed and annulled the judgment of the District Court of the United States, but it has reversed and annulled the provisions of the Constitution itself, [*523] and the act of Congress of 1789, and made the superior and appellate tribunal the inferior and subordinate one.
We do not question the authority
of State court, or judge, who is authorized by the laws of the State to issue
the writ of habeas corpus, to issue it in any case where the party is
imprisoned within its territorial limits, provided it does not appear, when the
application [***33] is
made, that the person imprisoned is in custody
[**176] under the authority of
the United States. The court or judge
has a right to inquire, in this mode of proceeding, for what cause and by what
authority the prisoner is confined within the territorial limits of the State sovereignty.
And it is the duty of the marshal, or other person having the custody of the
prisoner, to make known to the judge or court, by a proper return, the
authority by which he holds him in custody. This right to inquire by process of
habeas corpus, and the duty of the officer to make a return, grows,
necessarily, out of the complex character of our Government, and the existence
of two distinct and separate sovereignties within the same territorial space,
each of them restricted in its powers, and each within its sphere of action,
prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, independent of the
other. But, after the return is made,
and the State judge or court judicially apprized that the party is in custody
under the authority of the
Nor is there anything in this
supremacy of the General Government, or the jurisdiction of its judicial tribunals,
to awaken the jealousy or offend the natural and just pride of State
sovereignty. Neither this Government, nor the powers of which we are speaking,
were forced upon the States. The Constitution of the
Now, it certainly can be no humiliation
to the citizen of a republic to yield a ready obedience to the laws as
administered by the constituted authorities.
On the contrary, it is among his first and highest duties as a citizen,
because free government cannot exist without it. Nor can it be inconsistent with the dignity
of a sovereign State to observe faithfully, and in the spirit of sincerity and
truth, the compact into [***37] which it voluntarily entered when it
became a State of this
We are sensible that we have extended the examination of these decisions beyond the limits required by any intrinsic difficulty in the questions. But the decisions in question were made by the supreme judicial tribunal of the State; and when a court so elevated in [***38] its position has pronounced a judgment which, if it could be maintained, would subvert the very foundations of this Government, it seemed to be the duty of this court, when exercising its appellate power, to show plainly the grave errors into which the State court has fallen, and the consequences to which they would inevitably lead.
But it can hardly be necessary to
point out the errors which followed their mistaken view of the jurisdiction
they might lawfully exercise; because, if there was any defect of power in the
commissioner, or in his mode of proceeding, it was for the [*526]
tribunals of the [**177] United States to revise and correct it, and
not for a State court. And as regards
the decision of the District Court, it had exclusive and final jurisdiction by
the laws of the
But although we think it unnecessary to discuss these questions, yet, as they have been decided by the State court, and are before us on the record, and we are not willing [***39] to be misunderstood, it is proper to say that, in the judgment of this court, the act of Congress commonly called the fugitive slave law is, in all of its provisions, fully authorized by the Constitution of the United States; that the commissioner had lawful authority to issue the warrant and commit the party, and that his proceedings were regular and conformable to law. We have already stated the opinion and judgment of the court as to the exclusive jurisdiction of the District Court, and the appellate powers which this court is authorized and required to exercise. And if any argument was needed to show the wisdom and necessity of this appellate power, the cases before us sufficiently prove it, and at the same time emphatically call for its exercise.
The judgment of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin must therefore be reversed in each of the cases now before the court.