EX PARTE SIEBOLD, 100 U. S. 371 (1879)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ex parte Siebold, 100 U.S. 371 (1879)

Ex parte Siebold

100 U.S. 371


1. The appellate jurisdiction of this court, exercisable by the writ of habeas corpus, extends to a case of imprisonment upon conviction and sentence of a party by an inferior court of the United States, under and by virtue of an unconstitutional act of Congress, whether this court bas jurisdiction to review the judgment of conviction by writ of error or not.

2. The jurisdiction of this court by habeas corpus, when not restrained by some special law, extends generally to imprisonment pursuant to the judgment of an inferior tribunal of the United States which has no jurisdiction of the cause, or whose proceedings are otherwise void and not merely erroneous, and such a case occurs when the proceedings are had under an unconstitutional act.

3. But when the court below has jurisdiction of the cause, and the matter charged is indictable under a constitutional law, any errors committed by the inferior court can only be reviewed by writ of error, and, of course, cannot be reviewed at all if no writ of error lies.

4. Where personal liberty is concerned, the judgment of an inferior court affecting it is not so conclusive but that the question of its authority to try and imprison the party may be reviewed on habeas corpus by a superior court or judge having power to award the writ.

5. Certain judges of election in the city of Baltimore, appointed under State laws, were convicted in the Circuit Court of the United States, under sects. 6515 and 5522 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, for interfering with and resisting the supervisors of election and deputy marshals of the United States in the performance of their duty at an election of representatives to Congress, under sects. 2016, 2017, 2021, 2022, title xxvi of the Revised Statutes. Held, that the question of the constitutionality of said laws is good ground for the issue by this court of a writ of habeas corpus to inquire into the legality of the imprisonment under such conviction, and, if the laws are determined to be unconstitutional, the prisoner should be discharged .

6. Congress had power by the Constitution to enact sect. 5516 of the Revised Statutes, which makes it a penal offence against the United States for any officer of election, at an election held for a representative in Congress, to neglect to perform, or to violate, any duty in regard to such election, whether required by a law of the State or of the United States, or knowingly to do any act unauthorized by any such law, with intent to affect such election, or to make a fraudulent certificate of the result, &c., and sect. 5522, which makes it a penal offence for any officer or other person, with or without process, to obstruct, hinder, bribe, or interfere with a supervisor of election, or marshal, or deputy marshal in the performance of any duty required of them by any law of the United States, or to prevent their free attendance at the places of registration or election, &c.; also, sects. 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2021, 2022, title xxvi, which authorize the circuit courts to appoint supervisors of such elections, and the marshal to appoint special deputies to aid and assist them, and which prescribe the duties of such supervisors and deputy marshals -- these being the laws provided in the

Page 100 U. S. 372

enforcement Act of May 31, 1870, and the supplement thereto of Feb. 28, 1871, for supervising the elections of representatives, and for preventing frauds therein.

7. The circuit courts have jurisdiction of indictments under these laws, and a sentence in pursuance of a verdict of condemnation is lawful cause of imprisonment from which this court has no power to relieve on habeas corpus.

8. In making regulations for the election of representatives, it is not necessary that Congress should assume entire and exclusive control thereof. By virtue of that clause of the Constitution which declares that

"the times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the place of choosing senators,"

Congress has a supervisory power over the subject, and may either make entirely new regulations or add to, alter, or modify the regulations made by the State.

9. In the exercise of such supervisory power, Congress may impose new duties on the officers of election, or additional penalties for breach of duty, or for the perpetration of fraud; or provide for the attendance of officers to prevent frauds and see that the elections are legally and fairly conducted.

10. The exercise of such power can properly cause no collision of regulations or jurisdiction, because the authority of Congress over the subject is paramount, and any regulations it may make necessarily supersede inconsistent regulations of the State. This is involved in the power to "make or alter."

11. There is nothing in the relation of the State and the national sovereignties to preclude the cooperation of both in the matter of elections of representatives. If both were equal in authority over the subject, collisions of jurisdiction might ensue, but, the authority of the national government being paramount, collisions can only occur from unfounded jealousy of such authority.

12. The provision which authorizes the deputy marshals to keep the peace at the elections is not unconstitutional. The national government has the right to use physical force in any part of the United States to compel obedience to its laws, and to carry into execution the powers conferred upon it by the Constitution.

13. The concurrent jurisdiction of the national government with that of the States, which it has in the exercise of its powers of sovereignty in every part of the United States, is distinct from that exclusive jurisdiction which it has by the Constitution in the District of Columbia, and in those places acquired for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, &c.

14. The provisions adopted for compelling the State officers of election to observe the State laws regulating elections of representatives, not altered by Congress, are within the supervisory powers of Congress over such elections. The duties to be performed in this behalf are owed to tho United States, as well as to the State, and their violation is an offence against the United States which Congress may rightfully inhibit and punish. This necessarily follows from the direct interest which the national government has in the due election of its representatives and from the power which the Constitution gives to Congress over this particular subject.

Page 100 U. S. 373

16. Congress had power by the Constitution to vest in the circuit courts the appointment of supervisors of election. It is expressly declared that

"Congress my by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers as they think proper in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments."

Whilst, as a question of propriety, the appointment of officers whose duties appertain to one department ought not to be lodged in another, the matter is nevertheless left to the discretion of Congress.

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