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Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1

Document 87

Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution 3:§§ 1659--75, 1684--90, 1692--94


§ 1659. It has been remarked by the Federalist, in another place, that the jurisdiction of the court of admiralty, as well as of other courts, is a source of frequent and intricate discussions, sufficiently denoting the indeterminate limits, by which it is circumscribed. This remark is equally true in respect to England and America; to the high court of admiralty sitting in the parent country; and to the vice-admiralty courts sitting in the colonies. At different periods, the jurisdiction has been exercised to a very different extent; and in the colonial courts it seems to have had boundaries different from those prescribed to it in England. It has been exercised to a larger extent in Ireland, than in England; and down to this very day it has a most comprehensive reach in Scotland. The jurisdiction claimed by the courts of admiralty, as properly belonging to them, extends to all acts and torts done upon the high seas, and within the ebb and flow of the sea, and to all maritime contracts, that is, to all contracts touching trade, navigation, or business upon the sea, or the waters of the sea within the ebb and flow of the tide. Some part of this jurisdiction has been matter of heated controversy between the courts of common law, and the high court of admiralty in England, with alternate success and defeat. But much of it has been gradually yielded to the latter, in consideration of its public convenience, if not of its paramount necessity. It is not our design to go into a consideration of these vexed questions, or to attempt any general outline of the disputed boundaries. It will be sufficient in this place to present a brief view of that, which is admitted, and is indisputable.

§ 1660. The admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, (and the word, "maritime," was doubtless added to guard against any narrow interpretation of the preceding word, "admiralty,") conferred by the constitution, embraces two great classes of cases; one dependent upon locality, and the other upon the nature of the contract. The first respects acts or injuries done upon the high seas, where all nations claim a common right and common jurisdiction; or acts, or injuries done upon the coast of the sea; or, at farthest, acts and injuries done within the ebb and flow of the tide. The second respects contracts, claims, and services purely maritime, and touching rights and duties appertaining to commerce and navigation. The former is again divisible into two great branches, one embracing captures, and questions of prize arising jure belli; the other embracing acts, torts, and injuries strictly of civil cognizance, independent of belligerent operations.

§ 1661. By the law of nations the cognizance of all captures, jure belli, or, as it is more familiarly phrased, of all questions of prize, and their incidents, belongs exclusively to the courts of the country, to which the captors belong, and from whom they derive their authority to make the capture. No neutral nation has any right to inquire into, or to decide upon, the validity of such capture, even though it should concern property belonging to its own citizens or subjects, unless its own sovereign or territorial rights are violated; but the sole and exclusive jurisdiction belongs to the courts of the capturing belligerent. And this jurisdiction, by the common consent of nations, is vested exclusively in courts of admiralty, possessing an original, or appellate jurisdiction. The courts of common law are bound to abstain from any decision of questions of this sort, whether they arise directly or indirectly in judgment. The remedy for illegal acts of capture is by the institution of proper prize proceedings in the prize courts of the captors. If justice be there denied, the nation itself becomes responsible to the parties aggrieved; and if every remedy is refused, it then becomes a subject for the consideration of the nation, to which the parties aggrieved belong, which may vindicate their rights, either by a peaceful appeal to negotiation, or a resort to arms.

§ 1662. It is obvious upon the slightest consideration, that cognizance of all questions of prize, made under the authority of the United States, ought to belong exclusively to the national courts. How, otherwise, can the legality of the captures be satisfactorily ascertained, or deliberately vindicated? It seems not only a natural, but a necessary appendage to the power of war, and negotiation with foreign nations. It would otherwise follow, that the peace of the whole nation might be put at hazard at any time by the misconduct of one of its members. It could neither restore upon an illegal capture; nor in many cases afford any adequate redress for the wrong; nor punish the aggressor. It would be powerless and palsied. It could not perform, or compel the performance of the duties required by the law of nations. It would be a sovereign without any solid attribute of sovereignty; and move in vinculis only to betray its imbecility. Even under the confederation, the power to decide upon questions of capture and prize was exclusively conferred in the last resort upon the national court of appeals. But like all other powers conferred by that instrument, it was totally disregarded, wherever it interfered with state policy, or with extensive popular interests. We have seen, that the sentences of the national prize court of appeals were treated, as mere nullities; and were incapable of being enforced, until after the establishment of the present constitution. The same reasoning, which conducts us to the conclusion, that the national courts ought to have jurisdiction of this class of admiralty cases, conducts us equally to the conclusion, that, to be effectual for the administration of international justice, it ought to be exclusive. And accordingly it has been constantly held, that this jurisdiction is exclusive in the courts of the United States.

§ 1663. The other branch of admiralty jurisdiction, dependent upon locality, respects civil acts, torts, and injuries done on the sea, or (in certain cases) on waters of the sea, where the tide ebbs and flows, without any claim of exercising the rights of war. Such are cases of assaults, and other personal injuries; cases of collision, or running of ships against each other; cases of spoliation and damage, (as they are technically called,) such as illegal seizures, or depredations upon property; cases of illegal dispossession, or withholding possession from the owners of ships, commonly called possessory suits; cases of seizures under municipal authority for supposed breaches of revenue, or other prohibitory laws; and cases of salvage for meritorious services performed in saving property, whether derelict, or wrecked, or captured, or otherwise in imminent hazard from extraordinary perils.

§ 1664. It is obvious, that this class of cases has, or may have, an intimate relation to the rights and duties of foreigners in navigation and maritime commerce. It may materially affect our intercourse with foreign states; and raise many questions of international law, not merely touching private claims, but national sovereignty, and national reciprocity. Thus, for instance, if a collision should take place at sea between an American and a foreign ship, many important questions of public law might be connected with its just decision; for it is obvious, that it could not be governed by the mere municipal law of either country. So, if a case of recapture, or other salvage service performed to a foreign ship, should occur, it must be decided by the general principles of maritime law, and the doctrines of national reciprocity. Where a recapture is made of a friendly ship from the hands of its enemy, the general doctrine now established is, to restore it upon salvage, if the foreign country, to which it belongs, adopts a reciprocal rule; or to condemn it to the recaptors, if the like rule is adopted in the foreign country. And in other cases of salvage the doctrines of international and maritime law come into full activity, rather than those of any mere municipal code. There is, therefore, a peculiar fitness in appropriating this class of cases to the national tribunals; since they will be more likely to be there decided upon large and comprehensive principles, and to receive a more uniform adjudication; and thus to become more satisfactory to foreigners.

§ 1665. The remaining class respects contracts, claims, and services purely maritime. Among these are the claims of material-men and others for repairs and outfits of ships belonging to foreign nations, or to other states; bottomry bonds for monies lent to ships in foreign ports to relieve their distresses, and enable them to complete their voyages; surveys of vessels damaged by perils of the seas; pilotage on the high seas; and suits for mariners' wages. These, indeed, often arise in the course of the commerce and navigation of the United States; and seem emphatically to belong, as incidents, to the power to regulate commerce. But they may also affect the commerce and navigation of foreign nations. Repairs may be done, and supplies furnished to foreign ships; money may be lent on foreign bottoms; pilotage and mariners' wages may become due in voyages in foreign employment; and in such cases the general maritime law enables the courts of admiralty to administer a wholesome and prompt justice. Indeed, in many of these cases, as the courts of admiralty entertain suits in rem, as well as in personam, they are often the only courts, in which an effectual redress can be afforded, especially when it is desirable to enforce a specific maritime lien.

§ 1666. So that we see, that the admiralty jurisdiction naturally connects itself, on the one hand, with our diplomatic relations and duties to foreign nations, and their subjects; and, on the other hand, with the great interests of navigation and commerce, foreign and domestic. There is, then, a peculiar wisdom in giving to the national government a jurisdiction of this sort, which cannot be wielded, except for the general good; and which multiplies the securities for the public peace abroad, and gives to commerce and navigation the most encouraging support at home. It may be added, that, in many of the cases included in these latter classes, the same reasons do not exist, as in cases of prize, for an exclusive jurisdiction; and, therefore, whenever the common law is competent to give a remedy in the state courts, they may retain their accustomed concurrent jurisdiction in the administration of it.

§ 1667. We have been thus far considering the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction in civil cases only. But it also embraces all public offences, committed on the high seas, and in creeks, havens, basins, and bays within the ebb and flow of the tide, at least in such as are out of the body of any county of a state. In these places the jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty over offences is exclusive; for that of the courts of common law is limited to such offences, as are committed within the body of some county. And on the sea coast, there is an alternate, or divided jurisdiction of the courts of common law, and admiralty, in places between high and low water mark; the former having jurisdiction when, and as far as the tide is out, and the latter when, and as far as the tide is in, usque ad filum aquae, or to high water mark. This criminal jurisdiction of the admiralty is therefore exclusively vested in the national government; and may be exercised over such crimes and offences, as congress may, from time to time, delegate to the cognisance of the national courts. The propriety of vesting this criminal jurisdiction in the national government depends upon the same reasoning, and is established by the same general considerations, as have been already suggested in regard to civil cases. It is essentially connected with the due regulation, and protection of our commerce and navigation on the high seas, and with our rights and duties in regard to foreign nations, and their subjects, in the exercise of common sovereignty on the ocean. The states, as such, are not known in our intercourse with foreign nations, and not recognised as common sovereigns on the ocean. And if they were permitted to exercise criminal or civil jurisdiction thereon, there would be endless embarrassments, arising from the conflict of their laws, and the most serious dangers of perpetual controversies with foreign nations. In short, the peace of the Union would be constantly put at hazard by acts, over which it had no control; and by assertions of right, which it might wholly disclaim.

§ 1668. The next clause extends the judicial power "to controversies, to which the United States shall be a party." It scarcely seems possible to raise a reasonable doubt, as to the propriety of giving to the national courts jurisdiction of cases, in which the United States are a party. It would be a perfect novelty in the history of national jurisprudence, as well as of public law, that a sovereign had no authority to sue in his own courts. Unless this power were given to the United States, the enforcement of all their rights, powers, contracts, and privileges in their sovereign capacity, would be at the mercy of the states. They must be enforced, if at all, in the state tribunals. And there would not only not be any compulsory power over those courts to perform such functions; but there would not be any means of producing uniformity in their decisions. A sovereign without the means of enforcing civil rights, or compelling the performance, either civilly or criminally, of public duties on the part of the citizens, would be a most extraordinary anomaly. It would prostrate the Union at the feet of the states. It would compel the national government to become a supplicant for justice before the judicature of those, who were by other parts of the constitution placed in subordination to it.

§ 1669. It is observable, that the language used does not confer upon any court cognizance of all controversies, to which the United States shall be a party, so as to justify a suit to be brought against the United States without the consent of congress. And the language was doubtless thus guardedly introduced, for the purpose of avoiding any such conclusion. It is a known maxim, justified by the general sense and practice of mankind, and recognized in the law of nations, that it is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amesnable to the suit of any private person, without its own consent. This exemption is an attribute of sovereignty, belonging to every state in the Union; and was designedly retained by the national governemnt. The inconvenience of subjecting the government to perpetual suits, as a matter of right, at the will of any citizen, for any real or supposed claim or grievance, was deemed far greater, than any positive injury, that could be sustained by any citizen by the delay or refusal of justice. Indeed, it was presumed, that it never would be the interest or inclination of a wise government to withhold justice from any citizen. And the difficulties of guarding itself against fraudulent claims, and embarassing and stale controversies, were believed far to outweigh any mere theoretical advantages, to be derived from any attempt to provide a system for the administration of universal justice.

§ 1670. It may be asked, then, whether the citizens of the United States are wholly destitute of remedy, in case the national government should invade their rights, either by private injustice and injuries, or by public oppression? To this it may be answered, that in a general sense, there is a remedy in both cases. In regard to public oppressions, the whole structure of the government is so organized, as to afford the means of redress, by enabling the people to remove public functionaries, who abuse their trust, and to substitute others more faithful, and more honest, in their stead. If the oppression be in the exercise of powers clearly constitutional, and the people refuse to interfere in this manner, then indeed, the party must submit to the wrong, as beyond the reach of all human power; for how can the people themselves, in their collective capacity, be compelled to do justice, and to vindicate the rights of those, who are subjected to their sovereign control? If the oppression be in the exercise of unconstitutional powers, then the functionaries, who wield them, are amesnable for their injurious acts to the judicial tribunals of the country, at the suit of the oppressed.

§ 1671. As to private injustice and injuries, they may regard either the rights of property, or the rights of contract; for the national government is per se incapable of any merely personal wrong, such as an assault and battery, or other personal violence. In regard to property, the remedy for injuries lies against the immediate perpetrators, who may be sued, and cannot shelter themselves under any imagined immunity of the government from due responsibility. If, therefore, any agent of the government shall unjustly invade the property of a citizen under colour of a public authority, he must, like every other violator of the laws, respond in damages. Cases, indeed, may occur, in which he may not always have an adequate redress, without some legislation by congress. As for example, in places ceded to the United States, and over which they have an exclusive jurisdiction, if his real estate is taken without, or against lawful authority. Here he must rely on the justice of congress, or of the executive department. The greatest difficulty arises in regard to the contracts of the national government; for as they cannot be sued without their own consent, and as their agents are not responsible upon any such contracts, when lawfully made, the only redress, which can be obtained, must be by the instrumentality of congress, either in providing (as they may) for suits in the common courts of justice to establish such claims by a general law, or by a special act for the relief of the particular party. In each case, however, the redress depends solely upon the legislative department, and cannot be administered, except through its favour. The remedy is by an appeal to the justice of the nation in that forum, and not in any court of justice, as matter of right.

§ 1672. It has been sometimes thought, that this is a serious defect in the organization of the judicial department of the national government. It is not, however, an objection to the constitution itself; but it lies, if at all, against congress, for not having provided, (as it is clearly within their constitutional authority to do,) an adequate remedy for all private grievances of this sort, in the courts of the United States. In this respect, there is a marked contrast between the actual right and practice of redress in the national government, as well as in most of the state governments, and the right and practice maintained under the British constitution. In England, if any person has, in point of property, a just demand upon the king, he may petition him in his court of chancery (by what is called a petition of right) where the chancellor will administer right, theoretically as a matter of grace, and not upon compulsion; but in fact, as a matter of constitutional duty. No such judicial proceeding is recognised, as existing in any state of this Union, as matter of constitutional right, to enforce any claim, or debt against a state. In the few cases, in which it exists, it is matter of legislative enactment. Congress have never yet acted upon the subject, so as to give judicial redress for any non-fulfilment of contracts by the national government. Cases of the most cruel hardship, and intolerable delay have already occurred, in which meritorious creditors have been reduced to grievous suffering, and sometimes to absolute ruin, by the tardiness of a justice, which has been yielded only after the humble supplications of many years before the legislature. One can scarcely refrain from uniting in the suggestion of a learned commentator, that in this regard the constitutions, both of the national and state governments, stand in need of some reform, to quicken the legislative action in the administration of justice; and, that some mode ought to be provided, by which a pecuniary right against a state, or against the United States, might be ascertained, and established by the judicial sentence of some court; and when so ascertained and established, the payment might be enforced from the national treasury by an absolute appropriation. Surely, it can afford no pleasant source of reflection to an American citizen, proud of his rights and privileges, that in a monarchy the judiciary is clothed with ample powers to give redress to the humblest subject in a matter of private contract, or property against the crown; and, that in a republic there is an utter denial of justice, in such cases, to any citizen through the instrumentality of any judicial process. He may complain; but he cannot compel a hearing. The republic enjoys a despotic sovereignty to act, or refuse, as it may please; and is placed beyond the reach of law. The monarch bows to the law, and is compelled to yield his prerogative at the footstool of justice.

§ 1673. . . . This power [to resolve disputes between states] seems to be essential to the preservation of the peace of the Union. "History" (says the Federalist,) gives us a horrid picture of the dissensions and private wars, which distracted and desolated Germany, prior to the institution of the imperial chamber by Maximillian, towards the close of the fifteenth century; and informs us at the same time of the vast influence of that institution, in appeasing the disorders, and establishing the tranquillity of the empire. This was a court invested with authority to decide finally all differences among the members of the Germanic body." But we need not go for illustrations to the history of other countries. Our own has presented, in past times, abundant proofs of the irritating effects resulting from territorial disputes, and interfering claims of boundary between the states. And there are yet controversies of this sort, which have brought on a border warfare, at once dangerous to public repose, and incompatible with the public interests.

§ 1674. Under the confederation, authority was given to the national government, to hear and determine, (in the manner pointed out in the article,) in the last resort, on appeal, all disputes and differences between two or more states concerning boundary, jurisdiction, or any other cause whatsoever. Before the adoption of this instrument, as well as afterwards, very irritating and vexatious controveries existed between several of the states, in respect to soil, jurisdiction, and boundary; and threatened the most serious public mischiefs. Some of these controversies were heard and determined by the court of commissioners, appointed by congress. But, notwithstanding these adjudications, the conflict was maintained in some cases, until after the establishment of the present constitution.

§ 1675. Before the revolution, controversies between the colonies, concerning the extent of their rights of soil, territory, jurisdiction, and boundary, under their respective charters, were heard and determined before the king in council, who exercised original jurisdiction therein, upon the principles of feudal sovereignty. This jurisdiction was often practically asserted, as in the case of the dispute between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, decided by the privy council, in 1679; and in the case of the dispute between New Hampshire and New York, in 1764. Lord Hardwicke recognised this appellate jurisdiction in the most deliberate manner, in the great case of Penn v. Lord Baltimore. The same necessity, which gave rise to it in our colonial state, must continue to operate through all future time. Some tribunal, exercising such authority, is essential to prevent an appeal to the sword, and a dissolution of the government. That it ought to be established under the national, rather than under the state, government; or, to speak more properly, that it can be safely established under the former only, would seem to be a position self-evident, and requiring no reasoning to support it. It may justly be presumed, that under the national government in all controversies of this sort, the decision will be impartially made according to the principles of justice; and all the usual and most effectual precautions are taken to secure this impartiality, by confiding it to the highest judicial tribunal.

. . . . .

§ 1684. Next. "Controversies between citizens of different states." Although the necessity of this power may not stand upon grounds quite as strong, as some of the preceding, there are high motives of state policy and public justice, by which it can be clearly vindicated. There are many cases, in which such a power may be indispensable, or in the highest degree expedient, to carry into effect some of the privileges and immunities conferred, and some of the prohibitions upon states expressly declared, in the constitution. For example; it is declared, that the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens of the several states. Suppose an attempt is made to evade, or withhold these privileges and immunities, would it not be right to allow the party aggrieved an opportunity of claiming them, in a contest with a citizen of the state, before a tribunal, at once national and impartial? Suppose a state should pass a tender law, or law impairing the obligation of private contracts, or should in the course of its legislation grant unconstitutional preferences to its own citizens, is it not clear, that the jurisdiction to enforce the obligations of the constitution in such cases ought to be confided to the national tribunals? These cases are not purely imaginary. They have actually occurred; and may again occur, under peculiar circumstances, in the course of state legislation. What was the fact under the confederation? Each state was obliged to acquiesce in the degree of justice, which another state might choose to yield to its citizens. There was not only danger of animosities growing up from this source; but, in point of fact, there did grow up retaliatory legislation, to meet such real or imagined grievances.

§ 1685. Nothing can conduce more to general harmony and confidence among all the states, than a consciousness, that controversies are not exclusively to be decided by the state tribunals; but may, at the election of the party, be brought before the national tribunals. Besides; it cannot escape observation, that the judges in different states hold their offices by a very different tenure. Some hold during good behaviour; some for a term of years; some for a single year; some are irremovable, except upon impeachment; and others may be removed upon address of the legislature. Under such circumstances it cannot but be presumed, that there may arise a course of state policy, or state legislation, exceedingly injurious to the interests of the citizens of other states, both as to real and personal property. It would require an uncommon exercise of candour or credulity to affirm, that in cases of this sort all the state tribunals would be wholly without state prejudice, or state feelings; or, that they would be as earnest in resisting the encroachments of state authority upon the just rights, and interests of the citizens of other states, as a tribunal differently constituted, and wholly independent of state authority. And if justice should be as fairly and as firmly administered in the former, as in the latter, still the mischiefs would be most serious, if the public opinion did not indulge such a belief. Justice, in cases of this sort, should not only be above all reproach, but above all suspicion. The sources of state irritations and state jealousies are sufficiently numerous, without leaving open one so copious and constant, as the belief, or the dread of wrong in the administration of state justice. Besides; if the public confidence should continue to follow the state tribunals, (as in many cases it doubtless will,) the provision will become inert and harmless; for, as the party will have his election of the forum, he will not be inclined to desert the state courts, unless for some sound reason, founded either in the nature of his cause, or in the influence of state prejudices. On the other hand, there can be no real danger of injustice to the other side in the decisions of the national tribunals; because the cause must still be decided upon the true principles of the local law, and not by any foreign jurisprudence. There is another circumstance of no small importance, as a matter of policy; and that is, the tendency of such a power to increase the confidence and credit between the commercial and agricultural states. No man can be insensible to the value, in promoting credit, of the belief of there being a prompt, efficient, and impartial administration of justice in enforcing contracts.

§ 1686. Such are some of the reasons, which are supposed to have influenced the convention in delegating jurisdiction to the courts of the United States in cases between citizens of different states. Probably no part of the judicial power of the Union has been of more practical benefit, or has given more lasting satisfaction to the people. There is not a single state, which has not at some time felt the influence of this conservative power; and the general harmony, which exists between the state courts and the national courts, in the concurrent exercise of their jurisdiction in cases between citizens of different states, demonstrates the utility, as well as the safety of the power. Indeed; it is not improbable, that the existence of the power has operated, as a silent, but irresistible check to undue state legislation; at the same time, that it has cherished a mutual respect and confidence between the state and national courts, as honourable, as it has been beneficent.

§ 1687. The next inquiry growing out of this part of the clause is, who are to be deemed citizens of different states within the meaning of it. Are all persons born within a state to be always deemed citizens of that state, notwithstanding any change of domicil; or does their citizenship change with their change of domicil? The answer to this inquiry is equally plain and satisfactory. The constitution having declared, that the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states, every person, who is a citizen of one state, and removes into another, with the intention of taking up his residence and inhabitancy there, becomes ipso facto a citizen of the state, where he resides; and he then ceases to be a citizen of the state, from which he has removed his residence. Of course, when he gives up his new residence or domicil, and returns to his native, or other state residence or domicil, he reacquires the character of the latter. What circumstances shall constitute such a change of residence or domicil, is an inquiry, more properly belonging to a treatise upon public or municipal law, than to commentaries upon constitutional law. In general, however, it may be said, that a removal from one state into another, animo manendi, or with a design of becoming an inhabitant, constitutes a change of domicil, and of course a change of citizenship. But a person, who is a native citizen of one state, never ceases to be a citizen thereof, until he has acquired a new citizenship elsewhere. Residence in a foreign country has no operation upon his character, as a citizen, although it may, for purposes of trade and commerce, impress him with the character of the country. To change allegiance is one thing; to change inhabitancy is quite another thing. The right and the power are not coextensive in each case. Every citizen of a state is ipso facto a citizen of the United States.

§ 1688. And a person, who is a naturalized citizen of the United States, by a like residence in any state in the Union, becomes ipso facto a citizen of that state. So a citizen of a territory of the Union by a like residence acquires the character of the state, where he resides. But a naturalized citizen of the United States, or a citizen of a territory, is not a citizen of a state, entitled to sue in the courts of the United States in virtue of that character, while he resides in any such territory, nor until he has acquired a residence or domicil in the particular state.

§ 1689. A corporation, as such, is not a citizen of a state in the sense of the constitution. But, if all the members of the corporation are citizens, their character will confer jurisdiction; for then it is substantially a suit by citizens suing in their corporate name. And a citizen of a state is entitled to sue, as such, notwithstanding he is a trustee for others, or sues in autre droit, as it is technically called; that is, as representative of another. Thus, a citizen may sue, who is a trustee at law, for the benefit of the person entitled to the trust. And an administrator, and executor may sue for the benefit of the estate, which they represent; for in each of these cases it is their personal suit. But if citizens, who are parties to a suit, are merely nominally so; as, for instance, if magistrates are officially required to allow suits to be brought in their names for the use or benefit of a citizen or alien, the latter are deemed the substantial parties entitled to sue.

§ 1690. Next. "Controversies between citizens of the same state, claiming lands under grants of different states." This clause was not in the first draft of the constitution, but was added without any known objection to its propriety. It is the only instance, in which the constitution directly contemplates the cognizance of disputes between citizens of the same state; but certainly not the only one, in which they may indirectly upon constitutional questions have the benefit of the judicial power of the Union. The Federalist has remarked, that the reasonableness of the agency of the national courts in cases, in which the state tribunals cannot be supposed to be impartial, speaks for itself. No man ought certainly to be a judge in his own cause, or in any cause, in respect to which he has the least interest or bias. This principle has no inconsiderable weight in designating the federal courts, as the proper tribunals for the determination of controversies between different states and their citizens. And it ought to have the same operation in regard to some cases between citizens of the same state. Claims to land under grants of different states, founded upon adverse pretensions of boundary, are of this description. The courts of neither of the granting states could be expected to be unbiassed. The laws may have even prejudged the question; and tied the courts down to decisions in favour of the grants of the state, to which they belonged. And where this has not been done, it would be natural, that the judges, as men, should feel a strong predilection for the claims of their own government. And, at all events, the providing of a tribunal, having no possible interest on the one side, more than the other, would have a most salutary tendency in quieting the jealousies, and disarming the resentments of the state, whose grant should be held invalid. This jurisdiction attaches not only to grants made by different states, which were never united; but also to grants made by different states, which were originally united under one jurisdiction, if made since the separation, although the origin of the title may be traced back to an antecedent period.

. . . . .

§ 1692. In addition to these suggestions, it may be remarked, that it is of great national importance to advance public, as well as private credit, in our intercourse with foreign nations and their subjects. Nothing can be more beneficial in this respect, than to create an impartial tribunal, to which they may have resort upon all occasions, when it may be necessary to ascertain, or enforce their rights. Besides; it is not wholly immaterial, that the law to be administered in cases of foreigners is often very distinct from the mere municipal code of a state, and dependent upon the law merchant, or the more enlarged consideration of international rights and duties, in a case of conflict of the foreign and domestic laws. And it may fairly be presumed, that the national tribunals will, from the nature of their ordinary functions, become better acquainted with the general principles, which regulate subjects of this nature, than other courts, however enlightened, which are rarely required to discuss them.

§ 1693. In regard to controversies between an American and a foreign state, it is obvious, that the suit must, on one side at least, be wholly voluntary. No foreign state can be compelled to become a party, plaintiff or defendant, in any of our tribunals. If, therefore, it chooses to consent to the institution of any suit, it is its consent alone, which can give effect to the jurisdiction of the court. It is certainly desirable to furnish some peaceable mode of appeal in cases, where any controversy may exist between an American and a foreign state, sufficiently important to require the grievance to be redressed by any other mode, than through the instrumentality of negotiations.

§ 1694. The inquiry may here be made, who are to be deemed aliens entitled to sue in the courts of the United States. The general answer is, any person, who is not a citizen of the United States. A foreigner, who is naturalized, is no longer entitled to the character of an alien. And when an alien is the substantial party, it matters not, whether he is a suitor in his own right; or whether he acts, as a trustee, or personal representative; or whether he is compellable by the local law to sue through some official organ. A foreign corporation, established in a foreign country, all of whose members are aliens, is entitled to sue in the same manner, that an alien may personally sue in the courts of the Union. It is not sufficient to vest the jurisdiction, that an alien is a party to the suit, unless the other party be a citizen. British subjects, born before the American revolution, are to be deemed aliens; and may sue American citizens, born before the revolution, as well as those born since that period. The revolution severed the ties of allegiance; and made the inhabitants of each country aliens to each other. In relation to aliens, however, it should be stated, that they have a right to sue only, while peace exists between their country and our own. For if a war breaks out, and they thereby become alien enemies, their right to sue is suspended, until the return of peace.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 87
The University of Chicago Press

Story, Joseph. Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. 3 vols. Boston, 1833.

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All rights reserved. Published 2000