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Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 1.djvu/317

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That it has not been customary in the practice of the Supreme Court to inquire too closely as to the existence of the necessary facts before granting a writ of error, in those cases where the writ has been granted by a member of that court, and not by the State court, appears from the frequency with which motions to dismiss for want of jurisdiction have been granted. But in the present case it seemed best, in the exercise of an undoubtedly wise discretion, in deciding the motion to grant the writ, to pass on questions more usually determined upon a motion to dismiss or affirm, to examine the record and ascertain “whether any question reviewable here was made and decided in the proper court below,” and “whether it is of a character to justify us in bringing the judgment here for reëxamination.”

The claim of the petitioners, as stated by Chief Justice Waite in his opinion, was substantially as follows: “1, That a statute of the State as construed by the court, deprived the petitioners of a trial by an impartial jury; and, 2, that Spies was compelled to give evidence against himself,” in violation of rights secured by the United States Constitution. As to the second proposition the court was of opinion that the limits of cross-examination were not a matter of federal law, and that the constitutional objection to the use of evidence obtained by an unlawful seizure was not raised in the trial court, and therefore could not be considered; but it may be assumed, since the contrary is nowhere stated, that the accused had, at the proper time and in the proper manner, claimed a right, under the Constitution of the United States, to an impartial jury, and impeached the validity of the State jury law and the action of the State court as impairing that right. This was undoubtedly sufficient to enable the court to take cognizance, for it is firmly settled law that there is jurisdiction, however clear the question presented may be, provided it is a federal question properly raised and adversely decided; although the right claimed is wholly without foundation, it is within the power delegated to the court to pass upon it if it is claimed under the national Constitution.

But it must be borne in mind that the authority of the court is strictly limited to determining the questions arising from this claim; it gets jurisdiction, but only for a particular purpose; no questions of local law can be determined; the action of the State court other than that of denying the right asserted is not reviewable; and,