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United States Supreme Court

100 U.S. 339

Ex Parte Virginia


The petitioner, J. D. Coles, was arrested, and he is now held in custody under an indictment found against him in the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Virginia. The indictment alleged that he, being a judge of the county court of Pittsylvania County of that State, and an officer charged by law with the selection of jurors to serve in the circuit and county courts of said county in the year 1878, did then and there exclude and fail to select as grand and petit jurors certain citizens of said county of Pittsylvania, of African race and black color, said citizens possessing all other qualifications prescribed by law, and being by him excluded from the jury lists made out by him as such judge, on account of their race, color, and previous condition of servitude, and for no other reason, against the peace and dignity of the United States, and against the form of the statute of the United States in such case made and provided.

Being thus in custody, he has presented to us his petition for a writ of habeas corpus and a writ of certiorari to bring up the record of the District Court, in order that he may be discharged; and he avers that the District Court had and has no jurisdiction of the matters charged against him in said indictment; that they constitute no offence punishable in said District Court; and that the finding of said indictment, and his consequent arrest and imprisonment, are unwarranted by the Constitution of the United States, or by any law made in pursuance thereof, and are in violation of his rights and of the rights of the State of Virginia, whose judicial officer he is.

A similar petition has been presented by the State of Virginia, praying for a habeas corpus and for the discharge of the said Coles. Accompanying both these petitions are exhibited copies of the indictment, the bench-warrant, and the return of the marshal, showing the arrest of the said Coles and his detention in custody.

Both these petitions have been considered as one case, and the first question they present is, whether this court has jurisdiction to award the writ asked for by the petitioners. The question is not free from difficulty, in view of the Constitution and the several acts of Congress relating to writs of habeas corpus, and in view of our decisions heretofore made. If granting the writ would be an exercise of original jurisdiction, it would seem that it could not be granted, unless the fact that one of the petitioners for the writ is the State of Virginia makes the cases to differ. This is established by the rulings in Marbury v. Madison (1 Cranch, 137), and in numerous subsequent decisions. And it is not readily perceived how the fact that a State applies for the writ to be directed to one of her own citizens can make a case for our original jurisdiction.

But the appellate power of this court is broader than its original, and generally-that is, in most cases-it may be said that the issue of a writ of habeas corpus by us, when it is directed to one of our inferior courts, is an exercise of our appellate jurisdiction. Without going at large into a discussion of its extent, it is sufficient for the present to notice the fact that the exercise of the appellate power is not limited by the Constitution to any particular form or mode. It is not alone by appeal or by writ of error that it may be invoked. In the Matter of Metzer (5 How. 176), it was indeed ruled that an order of commitment made by a district judge, at chambers, cannot be revised here by habeas corpus. But such an order was reviewable in no form; and, besides, the authority of that case has been much shaken. In re Kaine, 14 How. 103; Ex parte Yerger, 8 Wall. 85. In the latter of these cases, it was said by Chief Justice Chase, in delivering the opinion of the court: 'We regard as established, upon principle and authority, that the appellate jurisdiction by habeas corpus extends to all cases of commitment by the judicial authority of the United States, not within any exception made by Congress.'

In the present case, the petitioner Coles is in custody under a bench-warrant directed by the District Court, and the averment is that the court had no jurisdiction of the indictment on which the warrant is founded.

The District Court is an inferior court, and, in such a case as that exhibited by the indictment, its judgments are reviewable here. The indictment has been found for a violation of sect. 4 of the act of Congress of March 1, 1875, entitled 'An Act to protect all citizens in their civil and legal rights.' 18 Stat., part 3, 336. The third section gives to the district courts as well as the circuit judicial cognizance of all offences against the provisions of the act; and the fifth section enacts that all cases arising under the provisions of the act shall be reviewable by the Supreme Court of the United States, without regard to the sum in controversy, under the same provisions and regulations as are now provided by law for the review of other cases in said court. If this section applies to criminal cases as well as civil, our appellate power extends directly to the District Court, and the act of March 3, 1879 (20 Stat. 354), which allows writs of error to the Circuit Court in such cases, has not deprived us of appellate jurisdiction.

We have, then, an application to our appellate power over the action of a district court, in a case where it is alleged that court has acted outside of its jurisdiction. It is said there is nothing to appeal from, that no decision or judgment has been given in the inferior court, and that the appeal, if any, is taken from the finding of a grand jury. This is a mistake. The bench-warrant was an order of the court, and the validity of the bench-warrant is the matter in question. It is true there has been no final judgment or decision of the whole case; but an appeal may lie, and in many courts often does lie, from a merely interlocutory order. It is said no habeas corpus was sued out either in the district or circuit court, and that we are not called upon to review the action of a lower court upon such a writ. This is true, and such a writ from the lower court would have been a more regular proceeding. We cannot say, however, it was indispensable, especially in view of the fact that a State is seeking release of one of her officers, and in view of former action in this court. In Ex parte Hamilton (3 Dall. 17), this court awarded a writ of habeas corpus, to review a commitment under a warrant of a district judge. In Ex parte Burford (3 Cranch, 448), such a writ was awarded to review a commitment by the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, not to review a decision of an inferior court upon a habeas corpus issued by it. So, in Ex parte Jackson (96 U.S. 727), in which the question of our power to issue the writ was raised, and the petition only averred that the Circuit Court had exceeded its jurisdiction, this court considered the merits of the case, without regard to the fact that there had been no habeas corpus in the court below. And in Ex parte Lange (18 Wall. 163) it was ruled, after an examination of authorities, that when a prisoner shows that he is held under a judgment of a Federal court, given without authority of law, this court, by writs of habeas corpus and certiorari, will look into the record, so far as to ascertain whether that is the fact, and, if it is found to be so, will discharge him. Mr. Justice Miller said, in delivering the opinion: 'The authority of the court in such a case, under the Constitution of the United States, and the fourteenth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789, to issue this writ and to examine the proceedings in the inferior court, so far as may be necessary to ascertain whether that court has exceeded its authority, is no longer an open question.'

While, therefore, it is true that a writ of habeas corpus cannot generally be made to subserve the purposes of a writ of error, yet when a prisoner is held without any lawful authority, and by an order beyond the jurisdiction of an inferior Federal court to make, this court will, in favor of liberty, grant the writ, not to review the whole case, but to examine the authority of the court below to act at all.

Our conclusion, then, is that we are empowered to grant the writ in such a case as is presented in these petitions. We come now to the merits of the case.

The indictment and bench-warrant, in virtue of which the petitioner Coles has been arrested and is held in custody, have their justification,-if any they have,-in the act of Congress of March 1, 1875, sect. 4. 18 Stat., part 3, 336. That section enacts that 'no citizen, possessing all other qualifications which are or may be prescribed by law shall be disqualified for service as grand or petit juror in any court of the United States, or of any State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; and any officer or other person charged with any duty in the selection or summoning of jurors who shall exclude or fail to summon any citizen for the cause aforesaid shall, on conviction thereof, be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and be fined not more than $5,000.' The defendant has been indicted for the misdemeanor described in this act, and it is not denied that he is now properly held in custody to answer the indictment, if the act of Congress was warranted by the Constitution. The whole merits of the case are involved in the question, whether the act was thus warranted.

The provisions of the Constitution that relate to this subject are found in the Thirteenth and [[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|Fourteenth Amendment]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]s. The Thirteenth ordains that 'neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,' and it declares that Congress shall have power to enforce the article by appropriate legislation. This has been followed by the [[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|Fourteenth Amendment]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]], which ordains that 'all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person the equal protection of the laws.' This amendment also declares that 'the Congress shall have power to enforce by appropriate legislation the provisions of this article.'

One great purpose of these amendments was to raise the colored race from that condition of inferiority and servitude in which most of them had previously stood, into perfect equality of civil rights with all other persons within the jurisdiction of the States. They were intended to take away all possibility of oppression by law because of race or color. They were intended to be, what they really are, limitations of the power of the States and enlargements of the power of Congrese. They are to some extent declaratory of rights, and though in form prohibitions, they imply immunities, such as may be protected by congressional legislation. We had occasion in the Slaughter-House Cases (16 Wall. 27) to express our opinion of their spirit and purpose, and to some extent of their meaning. We have again been called to consider them in Tennessee v. Davis (supra, p. 257) and Strauder v. West Virginia, supra, p. 303. In this latter case we held that the [[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|Fourteenth Amendment]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] secures, among other civil rights, to colored men, when charged with criminal offences against a State, an impartial jury trial, by jurors indifferently selected or chosen without discrimination against such jurors because of their color. We held that immunity from any such discrimination is one of the equal rights of all persons, and that any withholding it by a State is a denial of the equal protection of the laws, within the meaning of the amendment. We held that such an equal right to an impartial jury trial, and such an immunity from unfriendly discrimination, are placed by the amendment under the protection of the general government and guaranteed by it. We held, further, that this protection and this guarantee, as the fifth section of the amendment expressly ordains, may be enforced by Congress by means of appropriate legislation.

All of the amendments derive much of their force from this latter provision. It is not said the judicial power of the general government shall extend to enforcing the prohibitions and to protecting the rights and immunities guaranteed. It is not said that branch of the government shall be authorized to declare void any action of a State in violation of the prohibitions. It is the power of Congress which has been enlarged Congress is authorized to enforce the prohibitions by appropriate legislation. Some legislation is contemplated to make the amendments fully effective. Whatever legislation is appropriate, that is, adapted to carry out the objects the amendments have in view, whatever tends to enforce submission to the prohibitions they contain, and to secure to all persons the enjoyment of perfect equality of civil rights and the equal protection of the laws against State denial or invasion, if not prohibited, is brought within the domain of congressional power.

Nor does it make any difference that such legislation is restrictive of what the State might have done before the constitutional amendment was adopted. The prohibitions of the [[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|Fourteenth Amendment]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] are directed to the States, and they are to a degree restrictions of State power. It is these which Congress is empowered to enforce, and to enforce against State action, however put forth, whether that action be executive, legislative, or judicial. Such enforcement is no invasion of State sovereignty. No law can be, which the people of the States have, by the Constitution of the United States, empowered Congress to enact. This extent of the powers of the general government is overlooked, when it is said, as it has been in this case, that the act of March 1, 1875, interferes with State rights. It is said the selection of jurors for her courts and the administration of her laws belong to each State; that they are her rights. This is true in the general. But in exercising her rights, a State cannot disregard the limitations which the Federal Constitution has applied to her power. Her rights do not reach to that extent. Nor can she deny to the general government the right to exercise all its granted powers, though they may interfere with the full enjoyment of rights she would have if those powers had not been thus granted. Indeed, every addition of power to the general government involves a corresponding diminution of the governmental powers of the States. It is carved out of them.

We have said the prohibitions of the [[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|Fourteenth Amendment]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] are addressed to the States. They are, 'No State shall make or enforce a law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, . . . nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.' They have reference to actions of the political body denominated a State, by whatever instruments or in whatever modes that action may be taken. A State acts by its legislative, its executive, or its judicial authorities. It can act in no other way. The constitutional provision, therefore, must mean that no agency of the State, or of the officers or agents by whom its powers are exerted, shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Whoever, by virtue of public position under a State government, deprives another of property, life, or liberty, without due process of law, or denies or takes away the equal protection of the laws, violates the constitutional inhibition; and as he acts in the name and for the State, and is clothed with the State's power, his act is that of the State. This must be so, or the constitutional prohibition has no meaning. Then the State has clothed one of its agents with power to annul or to evade it.

But the constitutional amendment was ordained for a purpose. It was to secure equal rights to all persons, and, to insure to all persons the enjoyment of such rights, power was given to Congress to enforce its provisions by appropriate legislation. Such legislation must act upon persons, not upon the abstract thing denominated a State, but upon the persons who are the agents of the State in the denial of the rights which were intended to be secured. Such is the act of March 1, 1875, and we think it was fully authorized by the Constitution.

The argument in support of the petition for a habeas corpus ignores entirely the power conferred upon Congress by the [[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|Fourteenth Amendment]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]. Were it not for the fifth section of that amendment, there might be room for argument that the first section is only declaratory of the moral duty of the State, as was said in Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Dennison, 24 How. 66. The act under consideration in that case provided no means to compel the execution of the duty required by it, and the Constitution gave none. It was of such an act Mr. Chief Justice Taney said, that a power vested in the United States to inflict any punishment for neglect or refusal to perform the duty required by the act of Congress 'would place every State under the control and dominion of the general government, even in the administration of its internal concerns and reserved rights.' But the Constitution now expressly gives authority for congressional interference and compulsion in the cases embraced within the [[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|[[Additional amendments to the United States Constitution#Amendment XIV|Fourteenth Amendment]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]. It is but a limited authority, true, extending only to a single class of cases; but within its limits it is complete. The remarks made in Kentucky v. Dennison and in Collector v. Day, though entirely just as applied to the cases in which they were made, are inapplicable to the case we have now in hand.

We do not perceive how holding an office under a State, and claiming to act for the State, can relieve the holder from obligation to obey the Constitution of the United States, or take away the power of Congress to punish his disobedience.

It was insisted during the argument on behalf of the petitioner that Congress cannot punish a State judge for his official acts; and it was assumed that Judge Cole, in selecting the jury as he did, was performing a judicial act. This assumption cannot be admitted. Whether the act done by him was judicial or not is to be determined by its character, and not by the character of the agent. Whether he was a county judge or not is of no importance. The duty of selecting jurors might as well have been committed to a private person as to one holding the office of a judge. It often is given to county commissioners, or supervisors, or assessors. In former times, the selection was made by the sheriff. In such cases, it surely is not a judicial act, in any such sense as is contended for here. It is merely a ministerial act, as much so as the act of a sheriff holding an execution, in determining upon what piece of property he will make a levy, or the act of a roadmaster in selecting laborers to work upon the roads. That the jurors are selected for a court makes no difference. So are court-criers, tipstaves, sheriffs, &c. Is their election or their appointment a judicial act?

But if the selection of jurors could be considered in any case a judicial act, can the act charged against the petitioner be considered such when he acted outside of his authority and in direct violation of the spirit of the State statute? That statute gave him no authority, when selecting jurors, from whom a panel might be drawn for a circuit court, to exclude all colored men merely because they were colored. Such an exclusion was not left within the limits of his discretion. It is idle, therefore, to say that the act of Congress is unconstitutional because it inflicts penalties upon State judges for their judicial action. It does no such thing.

Upon the whole, as we are of opinion that the act of Congress upon which the indictment against the petitioner was founded is constitutional, and that he is correctly held to answer it, and as, therefore, no object would be secured by issuing a writ of habeas corpus, the petitions are

Denied.

MR. JUSTICE FIELD, with whom concurred MR. JUSTICE CLIFFORD, dissenting.

NotesEdit

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).