Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2

[Volume 4, Page 556]

Document 4

Sere v. Pitot

2 Cranch 332 1810

Marshall, Ch. J. delivered the opinion of the court as follows, viz.

This suit was brought in the court of the United States for the Orleans territory, by the plaintiffs, who are aliens, and syndics or assignees of a trading company composed of citizens of that territory, who have become insolvent. The defendants are citizens of the territory, and have pleaded to the jurisdiction of the court. Their plea was sustained, and the cause now comes on to be heard on a writ of error to that judgment.

. . . . .

Whether the citizens of the territory of Orleans are to be considered as the citizens of a state, within the meaning of the constitution, is a question of some difficulty which would be decided, should one of them sue in any of the circuit courts of the United States. The present inquiry is limited to a suit brought by or against a citizen of the territory, in the district court of Orleans.

The power of governing and of legislating for a territory is the inevitable consequence of the right to acquire and to hold territory. Could this position be contested, the constitution of the United States declares that "congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States." Accordingly, we find congress possessing and exercising the absolute and undisputed power of governing and legislating for the territory of Orleans. Congress has given them a legislative, an executive, and a judiciary, with such powers as it has been their will to assign to those departments respectively.

The court possesses the same jurisdiction which was possessed by the court of Kentucky. In the court of Kentucky, a citizen of Kentucky may sue or be sued. But it is said that this privilege is not imparted to a citizen of Orleans, because he is not a citizen of a state. But this objection is founded on the idea that the constitution restrains congress from giving the court of the territory jurisdiction over a case brought by or against a citizen of the territory. This idea is most clearly not to be sustained, and, of consequence, that court must be considered as having such jurisdiction as congress intended to give it.

Let us inquire what would be the jurisdiction of the court, on this restricted construction.

It would have no jurisdiction over a suit brought by or against a citizen of the territory, although an alien, or a citizen of another state might be a party.

It would have no jurisdiction over a suit brought by a citizen of one state, against a citizen of another state, because neither party would be a citizen of the "state" in which the court sat. Of what civil causes, then, between private individuals, would it have jurisdiction? Only of suits between an alien and a citizen of another state who should be found in Orleans. Can this be presumed to have been the intention of the legislature in giving the territory a court possessing the same jurisdiction and power with that of Kentucky.

The principal motive for giving federal courts jurisdiction, is to secure aliens and citizens of other states from local prejudices. Yet all who could be affected by them are, by this construction, excluded from those courts. There could scarcely ever be a civil action between individuals of which the court could take cognisance, and if such a case should arise, it would be one in which no prejudice is to be apprehended.

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