Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2

Document 15

William Rawle, A View of the Constitution of the United States 117--19 1829 (2d ed.)

Reasons will be given hereafter for considering many of the restrictions, contained in the amendments to the Constitution, as extending to the states as well as to the United States, but the nature of the writ of habeas corpus seems peculiarly to call for this construction. It is the great remedy of the citizen or subject against arbitrary or illegal imprisonment; it is the mode by which the judicial power speedily and effectually protects the personal liberty of every individual, and repels the injustice of unconstitutional laws or despotic governors. After erecting the distinct government which we are considering, and after declaring what should constitute the supreme law in every state in the Union, fearful minds might entertain jealousies of this great and all-controlling power, if some protection against its energies when misdirected, was not provided by itself.

The national code in which the writ of habeas corpus was originally found, is not expressly or directly incorporated into the Constitution.

If this provision had been omitted, the existing powers under the state governments, none of whom are without it, might be questioned, and a person imprisoned on a mandate of the president or other officer, under colour of lawful authority derived from the United States, might be denied relief. But the judicial authority, whether vested in a state judge, or a judge of the United States, is an integral and identified capacity; and if congress never made any provision for issuing writs of habeas corpus, either the state judges must issue them, or the individual be without redress. The Constitution seems to have secured this benefit to the citizen by the description of the writ, and in an unqualified manner admitting its efficacy, while it declares that it shall not be suspended unless when, in case of rebellion or invasion, the public safety shall require it. This writ is believed to be known only in countries governed by the common law, as it is established in England; but in that country the benefit of it may at any time be withheld by the authority of parliament, whereas we see that in this country it cannot be suspended even in cases of rebellion or invasion, unless the public safety shall require it. Of this necessity the Constitution probably intends, that the legislature of the United States shall be the judges. Charged as they are with the preservation of the United States from both those evils, and superseding the powers of the several states in the prosecution of the measures they may find it expedient to adopt, it seems not unreasonable that this control over the writ of habeas corpus, which ought only to be exercised on extraordinary occasions, should rest with them. It is at any rate certain, that congress, which has authorized the courts and judges of the United States to issue writs of habeas corpus in cases within their jurisdiction, can alone suspend their power, and that no state can prevent those courts and judges from exercising their regular functions, which are, however, confined to cases of imprisonment professed to be under the authority of the United States. But the state courts and judges possess the right of determining on the legality of imprisonment under either authority.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2, Document 15
The University of Chicago Press

Rawle, William. A View of the Constitution of the United States of America. 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1829. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1970.

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