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WHITTEN v. TOMLINSON.

decided: December 16, 1895.

WHITTEN
v.
TOMLINSON.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT.

Author: Gray

[ 160 U.S. Page 238]

 MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

By the judicial system of the United States, established by Congress under the power conferred upon it by the Constitution, the jurisdiction of the courts of the several States has not been controlled or interfered with, except so far as necessary to secure the supremacy of the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States.

With this end, three different methods have been provided by statute for bringing before the courts of the United States proceedings begun in the courts of the States.

First. From the earliest organization of the courts of the United States, final judgments, whether in civil or in criminal cases, rendered by the highest court of a State in which a decision in the case could be had, against a right specially set up or claimed under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States, may be reexamined and reversed or affirmed by this court on writ of error. Acts of September 24, 1789, c. 20, § 25, 1 Stat. 85; February 5, 1867, c. 28, § 2, 14 Stat. 386; Rev. Stat. § 709; Martin v. Hunter, 1 Wheat. 304; Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264. Such appellate jurisdiction is expressly limited to cases in which the decision of the state court is against the right claimed under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States, because, when the decision of that court is in favor of such a right, no revision by this court is necessary to protect the national government in the exercise of its rightful powers. Gordon v. Caldcleugh, 3 Cranch, 268; Montgomery v. Hernandez, 12 Wheat. 129; Commonwealth Bank v. Griffith, 14 Pet. 56, 58; Missouri v. Andriano, 138 U.S. 496, 500, 501.

[ 160 U.S. Page 239]

     Second. By the Judiciary Act of 1789, the only other way of transferring a case from a state court to a court of the United States was under section 12, by removal into the Circuit Court of the United States, before trial, of civil actions against aliens, or between citizens of different States. 1 Stat. 79. Such right of removal for trial has been regulated, and extended to cases arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States, by successive acts of Congress, which need not be particularly referred to, inasmuch as the present case is not one of such a removal.

Third. By section 14 of the old Judiciary Act, the courts of the United States were authorized, in general terms, to issue writs of habeas corpus and other writs necessary for the exercise of their respective jurisdictions; "provided that writs of habeas corpus shall in no case extend to prisoners in jail, unless when they are in custody under or by color of the authority of the United States, or are committed for trial before some court of the same, or are necessary to be brought into court to testify." 1 Stat. 81. Under that act, no writ of habeas corpus, except ad testificandum, could be issued in the case of a prisoner in jail under commitment by a court or magistrate of a State. Ex parte Dorr, 3 How. 103; In re Burrus, 136 U.S. 586, 593.

By subsequent acts of Congress, however, the power of the courts of the United States to issue writs of habeas corpus of prisoners in jail has been extended to the case of any person in custody for an act done or omitted in pursuance of a law of the United States, or of an order or process of a court or judge thereof; or in custody in violation of the Constitution, or of a law or treaty of the United States; or who, being a subject or citizen of and domiciled in a foreign State, is in custody for an act done or omitted under any right or exemption claimed under a foreign State, and depending upon the law of nations. Acts of March 2, 1833, c. 57, § 7, 4 Stat., 634; August 29, 1842, c. 257, 5 Stat. 539; February 5, 1867, c. 28, § 1, 14 Stat. 385; Rev. Stat. § 753.

By the existing statutes, this court and the Circuit and District Courts, and any justice or judge thereof, have power

[ 160 U.S. Page 240]

     to grant writs of habeas corpus for the purpose of inquiring into the cause of restraint of liberty of any prisoner in jail, who "is in custody in violation of the Constitution, or of a law or treaty of the United States;" and "the court or justice or judge, to whom the application is made, shall forthwith award a writ of habeas corpus, unless it appears from the petition itself that the party is not entitled thereto;" and "shall proceed in a summary way to determine the facts of the case, by hearing the testimony and arguments, and thereupon to dispose of the party as law and justice may require." Rev. Stat. §§ 751-755, 761.

The power thus granted to the courts and judges of the United States clearly extends to prisoners held in custody, under the authority of a State, in violation of the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States. But in the exercise of this power the courts of the United States are not bound to discharge by writ of habeas corpus every such prisoner.

The principles which should govern their action in this matter were stated, upon great consideration, in the leading case of Ex parte Royall, 117 U.S. 241, and were repeated in one of the ...


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