Article 3, Section 2, Clause 2

Document 8

United States v. More

3 Cranch 159 1805

February 13th. The Chief Justice suggested a doubt, whether the appellate jurisdiction of this court extends to criminal cases.

February 22d. Mason, in support of the appellate jurisdiction of this court in criminal cases.--By the 1st section of the third article of the constitution, the judicial power of the United States is vested in one supreme court, and in such inferior courts as the congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish. By the 2d section, it is extended to all cases in law and equity, arising under the laws of the United States. This is a case in law, arising under the laws of the United States, and is, therefore, within that section.

"In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the supreme court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the supreme court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations, as the congress shall make." Congress has made no exception of criminal cases. I understand it to have been said by this court, that it is necessary that congress should have made a regulation, to enable this court to exercise its appellate jurisdiction. Upon this point, I consider myself bound by the case of Clarke v. Bazadone. (1 Cr. 212.) It is clear, then, that this court has the jurisdiction, and the only question is, whether congress has made such a regulation as will enable this court to exercise it.

Such a regulation is contained in the 14th section of the judiciary act of 1789 (1 U. S. Stat. 81), which enacts, "that all the before-mentioned courts of the United States shall have power to issue writs of scire facias, habeas corpus, and all other writs, not specially provided for by statute, which may be necessary for the exercise of their respective jurisdictions, and agreeable to the principles and usages of law." The writ of error in a criminal case is a writ not provided for by statute, and necessary for the exercise of the appellate jurisdiction given to the supreme court by the constitution, and agreeable to the principles and usages of law. This court has, therefore, the power to issue it.

There is no reason why the writ of error should be confined to civil cases. A man's life, his liberty and his good name, are as dear to him as his property; and inferior courts are as liable to err in one case as in the other. There is nothing in the nature of the cases which should make a difference; nor is it a novel doctrine, that a writ of error should lie in a criminal case. They have been frequent in that country from which we have drawn almost all our forms of judicial proceedings. It is true, that it is expressly given by the act of congress of 1789, in civil cases only, but it does not thence follow, that it should be denied, in criminal.

Marshall, Ch. J.--If congress had erected inferior courts, without saying in what cases a writ of error or appeal should lie from such courts to this, your argument would be irresistible; but when the constitution has given congress power to limit the exercise of our jurisdiction, and to make regulations respecting its exercise; and congress, under that power, has proceeded to erect inferior courts, and has said in what cases a writ of error or appeal shall lie, an exception of all other cases is implied. And this court is as much bound by an implied as an express exception.

Mason.--When legislating over the district of Columbia, congress are bound by no constitution. If they are, they have violated it, by not giving us a republican form of government. The same observation will also apply to Louisiana.

The act of congress which gives a writ of error to the circuit court of this district, differs, in some respects, from that which gives the writ of error to the other courts of the United States. The words of the judiciary act of 1789, § 22, are, "and upon a like process (that is, by a writ of error, citation, &c.), may final judgments and decrees in civil actions, and suits in equity in a circuit court," &c., "be reversed or affirmed in the supreme court." But in the law concerning the district of Columbia, § 8 (2 U. S. Stat. 106), the expressions are, "that any final judgment, order or decree in said court, wherein the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, shall exceed the value of one hundred dollars, may be re-examined, and reversed or affirmed in the supreme court of the United States, by writ of error or appeal which shall be prosecuted in the same manner, under the same regulations, and the same proceedings shall be had therein, as is, or shall be, provided in the case of writs of error on judgments, or appeals upon orders or decrees rendered in the circuit court of the United States."

In this section, if the words respecting the value of the matter in dispute were excluded, a writ of error would clearly lie in a criminal case, under the general expression, any final judgment. Then do those words respecting the value, exclude criminal cases? Suppose, the court below had imposed a fine of more than $100, the case would have been within the express words of the act. So it would have been, if a penalty of more than $100 had been imposed by law.

But this court has exercised appellate jurisdiction in a criminal case. United States v. Simms, 1 Cr. 252.

Marshall, Ch. J.--No question was made, in that case, as to the jurisdiction. It passed sub silentio, and the court does not consider itself as bound by that case.

Mason.--But the traverser had able counsel, who did not think proper to make the objection.

March 2d, 1805. Marshall, Ch. J., delivered the opinion of the court as follows:--This is an indictment against the defendant, for taking fees, under color of his office, as a justice of the peace in the district of Columbia. A doubt has been suggested, respecting the jurisdiction of this court, in appeals or writs of error, from the judgments of the circuit court for that district, in criminal cases; and this question is to be decided, before the court can inquire into the merits of the case.

In support of the jurisdiction of the court, the attorney-general has adverted to the words of the constitution, from which he seemed to argue, that as criminal jurisdiction was exercised by the courts of the United States, under the description of "all cases in law and equity arising under the laws of the United States," and as the appellate jurisdiction of this court was extended to all enumerated cases, other than those which might be brought on originally, "with such exceptions, and under such regulations, as the congress shall make," that the supreme court possessed appellate jurisdiction in criminal, as well as civil cases, over the judgments of every court, whose decisions it would review, unless there should be some exception or regulation make by congress, which should circumscribe the jurisdiction conferred by the constitution.

This argument would be unanswerable, if the supreme court had been created by law, without describing its jurisdiction. The constitution would then have been the only standard by which its powers could be tested, since there would be clearly no congressional regulation or exception on the subject. But as the jurisdiction of the court has been described, it has been regulated by congress, and an affirmative description of its powers must be understood as a regulation, under the constitution, prohibiting the exercise of other powers than those described.

Thus, the appellate jurisdiction of this court, from the judgments of the circuit courts, is described affirmatively: no restrictive words are used. Yet, it has never been supposed, that a decision of a circuit court could be reviewed, unless the matter in dispute should exceed the value of $2000. There are no words in the act, restraining the supreme court from taking cognisance of causes under that sum; their jurisdiction is only limited by the legislative declaration, that they may re-examine the decisions of the circuit court, where the matter in dispute exceeds the value of $2000. This court, therefore, will only review those judgments of the circuit court of Columbia, a power to reexamine which, is expressly given by law.

On examining the act "concerning the district of Columbia," the court is of opinion, that the appellate jurisdiction, granted by that act, is confined to civil cases. The words "matter in dispute," seem appropriated to civil cases, where the subject in contest has a value beyond the sum mentioned in the act. But in criminal cases, the question is the guilt or innocence of the accused. And although he may be fined upwards of $100, yet that is, in the eye of the law, a punishment for the offence committed, and not the particular object of the suit.

The writ of error, therefore, is to be dismissed, this court having no jurisdiction of the case.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 3, Section 2, Clause 2, Document 8
The University of Chicago Press

Easy to print version.