RESPUBLICA V. COBBETT, 3 U. S. 467 (1798)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Respublica v. Cobbett, 3 U.S. 3 Dall. 467 467 (1798)

Respublica v. Cobbett

3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 467



The Defendant, being charged as a common libeler before the Chief Justice, was bound by recognizance to be a good behavior, &c. and on a supposition that he had broken the condition, by a continuance of his libelous publications, an action of debt was instituted upon the recognizance in this court. At the time of his entering his appearance, however, he filed a petition, setting forth upon oath that he was an alien, a subject of the King of Great Britain, and praying that the suit might be removed for trial into the circuit court upon the terms prescribed by the 12th section of the Judicial Act. I Vol. Swift's Edit. p. 56. The removal being objected to, a rule to show cause was granted.

The argument embraced two propositions: 1st, whether in any case a state can be compelled, by an alien to prosecute her rights in the circuit court; 2d, whether admitting the general jurisdiction of the circuit court, a state can be so compelled in a case like the present.

I. For the defendant it was urged that the present case came clearly within the Constitutional investment of judicial authority in the federal government, being a case between a state and a subject of a foreign state; Art. III, s. 2, that the 11th section of the Judicial Act, gives the circuit court "original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several

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states, of all suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity, &c. where an alien is a party;" I Vol. Swift's Edit. p. 55, and that whatever doubt might be raised, whether this original jurisdiction embraced the case of a plaintiff state upon a recognizance, yet the act precludes all doubt when, in the nature of an appellate jurisdiction, it provides by the 12th section for the removal of "a suit (not saying as before, a suit of a "civil nature") commenced in any state court against an alien." The jurisdiction thus expressly recognized by the Constitution and law is founded on the policy of assuring to foreigners an independent and impartial tribunal; a policy more entitled to be respected than the mere dignity of the individual states in the administration of justice. But neither the principle nor the terms of the Constitution will effect the present case, for the principle goes no further than to prevent issuing any compulsory process to render a state amenable at the suit of individuals, and the terms of the amendment, conforming to the principle, provide only that

"The judicial power of the United states shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United states by citizens of another state, or by citizens, or subjects, of any foreign state."

3 Vol., p. 131, Swift's Edit. This is not a suit against a state, so the judicial power of the United states may still extend to it; but being a suit in which a state is a party against an alien, the Supreme Court has, Constitutionally, an original jurisdiction, which, however, does not preclude the exercise of jurisdiction by way of appeal, particularly where the act of the state itself in resorting to her own tribunal leaves no alternative.

II. Nor is there anything in the peculiar nature of the present suit to bar the federal jurisdiction. It is an action of debt -- a suit of a civil nature instituted by the same process, though in the name of the Commonwealth, as any other action to recover a debt, and not as a criminal prosecution for a breach of the law or recognizance. If instead of applying for a removal, the defendant had pleaded, the plaintiff had demurred to the plea, and judgment had been given for the state, the defendant would in this case, as in all cases of a civil nature, be entitled to a writ of error. To obviate, indeed, all cavil on the nature of the actions to be removed, the 12th section of the Judicial Act rejects epithets and qualifications of every description, using simply the term "a suit," which is what the logicians would denominate genus generalissimum, comprehending every form of action. See 6 Mod. 132; 7 T.Rep. 357; 2 Bl. C. 341; 2 Dall. 358; 1 Dall. 393.

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I. For the commonwealth it was answered that if the present attempt was successful, it would prostrate the authority of the individual states and render them, whenever a foreigner was an offender, and the offense was bailable, completely dependent upon the federal courts for the administration of criminal justice. But recognizances are a part of the proceedings in the exercise of a criminal jurisdiction, and wherever the principal question attaches, it is a rule of law that every incident follows. The case never could, indeed, be within the contemplation of the Constitution or law as a subject of federal jurisdiction. Every government ought to possess the means of selfpreservation, and no court can exist without the power of bailing, binding to good behavior, &c. It is absurd and nugatory to say a state court may possess the power but that a federal court, in the numerous instances of foreigners, is necessary to enforce it. Nor is the adverse doctrine confined to the case of a recognizance like the present, but it equally applies to the cases of a recognizance for the appearance of a defendant or witness and for answering interrogatories upon a contempt committed. Is it reasonable to suppose that such an effect was intended to be produced by the framers of the Constitution, or that it could long be tolerated by the people!

It is contended the word "suit" is genus generalissimum, and embraces every species of action; but however logical the phrase, the inference is certainly politically wrong. The powers of the general government extend no further than positive delegation; and, in relation to crimes, they are either specified in the Constitution or enacted in laws made in pursuance of it. The state has likewise its penal sanctions, more general and indefinite than those of the Union, every inhabitant owing obedience to its laws. If an alien, as well as if a citizen, commits murder, burglary, arson, or larceny in Pennsylvania, he is punishable by indictment exclusively in the state courts. And yet an indictment or information is in legal phraseology "a suit," 4 Bl. C. 298; 2 Wood. Lect. 551; 2 Com.Dig. 227. As are actions on penal statutes, whether brought by a common informer or by the state. If, then, the word "suit" is so comprehensive, what is to prevent an alien from transferring an indictment from the state to the federal court?

But the truth is that this is not a suit of a civil nature, and therefore not within the view of the Constitution or of the act of Congress. Speaking of indictments and informations, they would be called criminal prosecutions. And this suit though not, strictly, a criminal prosecution, is a suit of a criminal

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nature. What is its origin? A complaint on oath that the party menaces the public peace. What is the cause of action? A breach of the condition to keep the peace and be of good behavior. What will be the fact in issue? Whether the defendant has kept the peace, and been of good behavior, according to the law of Pennsylvania. What must be the plaintiff's proof? Proof that the defendant has committed an offense. The recognizance is, in short, a part of the criminal process of the law; it must be set forth on the record, and it is the mere instrument of substituting bail for the imprisonment of the defendant's person.

II. But a state cannot be, and never could have been, compelled by an alien to prosecute her rights in a circuit court. The Constitution contemplates the subjects and the tribunals for the exercise of the judicial authority of the Union. The cases of public ministers and individual states are vested as matter of original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court, and even if the word "original" does not mean exclusive, the courts of the respective states possessed at the time of framing the Constitution, a concurrent jurisdiction by which the provision may be satisfied. The jurisdiction of the state courts has never since been taken away, but as the Constitution does not give a concurrent jurisdiction to the circuit court, it is at least incumbent on the defendant's counsel to show by express words that such a jurisdiction is given in the act of Congress.

In distributing among the federal courts their respective portions of the judicial authority, Congress has declared in the 13th section

"That the Supreme Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction of all controversies of a civil nature where a state is a part, except between a state and its citizens and except also been a state and citizens of other states or aliens, in which latter case it shall have original, but not exclusive, jurisdiction."

When these exceptions were made, the concurrent jurisdiction of the state courts existed to satisfy them, and the act of Congress does not, in any other section, name or describe the case of a state either upon the principle of an original, exclusive, or appellate jurisdiction. The principal policy suggested as to aliens was likewise answered, for they might all have sued in the Supreme Court, and the case of one state against a citizen of another state is put on the same footing with the case of a state against an alien. By this section, therefore, the provision in the Constitution is effectuated, and we must presume that if a state was meant to be included in any grant of jurisdiction to an inferior court, the meaning would be clearly expressed, and not left to doubtful implication.

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There are, then, no words in creating the jurisdiction of the circuit court that expressly include a state, and indeed it has almost been conceded that the case is not within the 11th section of the Judicial Act. It is to be shown, however, that if it is not within the 11th section, it cannot be embraced by the 12th section. The concurrent jurisdiction given by the 11th section to the circuit court refers to the state courts, and not to the Supreme Court, and the generality of the terms might, upon the opposite construction, be extended to cases evidently not included in the reason of the provision or excluded by other parts of the law -- to suits below the value of $500, to suits for costs, and to suits between aliens. It is insisted, however, to be enough to give the jurisdiction that an alien is a party. But expressio unius est exclusio alterius, and it would violate another rule of law to embrace the case of a superior, a state, by merely naming the case of an inferior, a foreign individual. In the Constitution and in the 13th section of the Judicial Act, the cases of an alien and of a citizen of another state are placed on the same footing, because it is plain that their cases are within the same policy; but if the adverse doctrine is correct, the principle is abandoned in the 11th section, for the jurisdiction will affect the suit of a state where an alien is a party, though it will not affect the suit of a state where the citizen of another state is a party. "Alien party," means party plaintiff as well as defendant, and therefore, if the jurisdiction is not limited to private suits between individuals, what was there before the amendment of the Constitution to prevent an alien from suing a state in the circuit court? And yet was such an attempt ever made, or would ever such an attempt have been tolerated?

These considerations and the dignity of the party must evince that the Constitution and law intended to vest in the Supreme Court alone an original jurisdiction in the case of states unless the states themselves voluntarily resort to state tribunals, which are therefore left with a concurrent authority. Neither in the Constitution nor the law is there an express delegation of a concurrent authority to the circuit courts. For although it is said that the twelfth section meant to enlarge the jurisdiction of the circuit courts beyond the boundaries prescribed in the eleventh section, yet the sections are in pari materia; they speak of the same parties, they refer to the same value of the matter in controversy, and in short the twelfth section only provides a mode of transferring from the state court to the federal court such suits in which an alien is made a defendant as he could have originally brought there in

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the character of a plaintiff. In the character of a plaintiff he could never have sued a state in the circuit court, and such is the uniform opinion of all who have ever commented on the Constitution or expounded the Law. 2 Federalist 317-318, 323, 327; 2 Dall. 436, 299, 402, 415.

But surely the amendment to the Constitution must put an end to every difficulty. It ordains that

"The judicial power of the United states shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity commenced or prosecuted against one of the United states by citizens of another state or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state."

3 Vol. 131, Swift's Edit. The language of the amendment, indeed, does not import an alteration of the Constitution, but an authoritative declaration of its true construction. Then there are only two cases in which a state can be affected -- 1st, where she is plaintiff; 2d, where she is defendant. The amendment declares that she shall not be affected as a defendant, and as a plaintiff, she can never be affected but by her own act, since there is no Constitutional injunction that she shall sue in a federal court. The mischief which was apprehended in allowing states to be sued in the Supreme Court is not greater than the mischief in allowing them to be forced to sue in the circuit court; the process in both cases is alike compulsory, and many interlocutory decisions as well as final judgments might be pronounced to which a state plaintiff would be as averse as a state defendant. If she does not recover, shall she be condemned in costs? If there is a setoff pleaded and a verdict against her, can the defendant maintain a scire facias under the Pennsylvania act of assembly, which the act of Congress recognizes as the rule of decision? 1 Vol. 65 (Dall. Edit.). Or if she recovers as a plaintiff, in the circuit court, can she be converted into a defendant in the Supreme Court upon a writ of error? Such is the labyrinth in which the opposite doctrine is involved!

After advisement, the unanimous opinion of the court was delivered by the Chief Justice, in the following terms.

McKean, Chief Justice.

This action is brought on a recognizance to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the good behavior entered into by the defendant before me. The defendant has appeared to the action and exhibited his petition to the court, praying that the jurisdiction thereof be transferred to the circuit court of the United states, as he is an alien and a subject of the King of Great Britain. His right to this claim of jurisdiction is said to be grounded on the 12th section of the act of Congress, entitled "An act to establish the

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Judicial courts of the United states," passed 24 September, 1789, in the first clause of which section it is enacted that if a suit be commenced in any state court against an alien, &c., and the matter in dispute exceeds the sum or value of $500, exclusive of costs, on a petition of the defendant, and a tender of bail to appear in the circuit court, &c. it shall be the duty of the state court to accept the surety, and proceed no further in the case, &c.

Previous to the delivery of my opinion in a cause of such importance, as to the consequences of the decision, I will make a few preliminary observations on the Constitution and laws of the United states of America.

Our system of government seems to me to differ in form and spirit from all other governments that have heretofore existed in the world. It is as to some particulars national, in others federal, and in all the residue territorial, or in districts called states.

The divisions of power between the national, federal, and state governments (all derived from the same source, the authority of the people) must be collected from the Constitution of the United states. Before it was adopted, the several states had absolute and unlimited sovereignty within their respective boundaries; all the powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, excepting those granted to Congress under the old constitution. They now enjoy them all, excepting such as are granted to the government of the United states by the present instrument and the adopted amendments, which are for particular purposes only. The government of the United states forms a part of the government of each state; its jurisdiction extends to the providing for the common defense against exterior injuries and violence, the regulation of commerce, and other matters specially enumerated in the Constitution; all other powers remain in the individual states, comprehending the interior and other concerns; these combined form one complete government. Should there by any defect in this form of government or any collision occur, it cannot be remedied by the sole act of the Congress or of a state; the people must be resorted to for enlargement or modification. If a state should differ with the United states about the construction of them, there is no common umpire but the people, who should adjust the affair by making amendments in the constitutional way or suffer from the defect. In such a case, the Constitution of the United states is federal; it is a league or treaty made by the individual states as one party, and all the states as another party. When two nations differ about the meaning of any clause, sentence, or word in a treaty, neither has an exclusive right to decide it;

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they endeavor to adjust the matter by negotiation, but if it cannot be thus accomplished, each has a right to retain its own interpretation until a reference be had to the mediation of other nations, an arbitration, or the fate of war. There is no provision in the Constitution that in such a case the Judges of the Supreme Court of the United states shall control and be conclusive; neither can the Congress by a law confer that power. There appears to be a defect in this matter; it is a casus omissus which ought in some way to be remedied. Perhaps the Vice-President and Senate of the United states, or commissioners appointed, say one by each state, would be a more proper tribunal than the Supreme Court. Be that as it may, I rather think the remedy must be found in an amendment of the Constitution.

I shall now consider the case before us. It is an action brought in the name of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against an alien, a British subject. By the express words of the second sentence of the 2nd section of the 3rd Article of the Constitution of the United states, in such an action the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction, whereas it is now prayed by the defendant that original jurisdiction be given to the circuit court. From this it would reasonably be concluded that the Congress, in the 12th section of the Judicial Law, did not contemplate an action wherein a state was plaintiff, though an alien was defendant, for it is there said "that if a suit be commenced in any state court against an alien, . . . " as it does not mention by a state, the presumption and construction must be that it meant by a citizen. This will appear pretty plain from a perusal of the 11th section of the same act, where it is enacted that the circuit courts shall have original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several states, of all suits of a civil nature of a certain value where the United states is plaintiffs or petitioner or where an alien is a party. This confines the original cognizance of the circuit courts, concurrent with the courts of the several states, to civil actions commenced by the United states or citizens against aliens or where an alien is a party, &c., and does not extend to actions brought against aliens by a state, for of such the Supreme Court had, by the Constitution, original jurisdiction. I would further remark that the jurisdiction of the circuit courts is confined to actions of a civil nature against aliens, and does not extend to those of a criminal nature, for although the word "suit" is used generally in the 12th section, without expressing the words "of a civil nature," yet the slightest consideration of what follows manifestly shows that no other suit was meant, for the matter in dispute must exceed $500 in

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value, special bail must be given, &c. terms applicable to actions of a civil nature only.

Let us now consider whether this suit against William Cobbet is of a civil or criminal nature. It is grounded on a recognizance for the good behavior entered into before the Chief Justice of this state. This recognizance, it must be conceded, was taken to prevent criminal actions by the defendant in violation of the peace, order, and tranquility of the society; it was to prevent crimes, or public wrongs and misdemeanors, and for no other purpose. It is evidently of a criminal nature, and cannot be supported unless he shall be convicted of having committed some crime which would incur its breach since its date and before the day on which the process issued against him. Besides, a recognizance is a matter of record, it is in the nature of a judgment, and the process upon it, whether a scire facias or summons, is for the purpose of carrying it into execution, and is rather judicial than original; it is no farther to be reckoned an original suit than that the defendant has a right to plead to it; it is founded upon the recognizance, and must be considered as flowing from it and partaking of its nature, and when final judgment shall be given the whole is to be taken as one record. It has been well observed by the Attorney General that by the last amendment, or legislative declaration of the meaning of the Constitution respecting the jurisdiction of the courts of the United states over the causes of states, it is strongly implied that states shall not be drawn against their will directly or indirectly before them, and that if the present application should prevail, this would be the case. The words of the declaration are:

"The judicial power of the United states shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity commenced or prosecuted against one of the United states by citizens of another state or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state."

When the Judicial Law was passed, the opinion prevailed that states might be sued, which by this amendment is settled otherwise.

The argument ab inconvenient is also applicable to the construction of this section of the act of Congress. Can the legislature of the United states be supposed to have intended (granting it was within their Constitutional powers) that an alien, residing three or four hundred miles from where the circuit court is held, who has, from his turbulent and infamous conduct in his neighborhood, been bound to the good behavior by a magistrate of a state, should, after a breach of his recognizance and a prosecution for it commenced, be enabled to remove the prosecution before a court at such a distance, and held but twice in a year, to be tried by a jury

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who knows neither the persons nor characters of the witnesses, and consequently is unqualified to try their credit, and to oblige the prosecutor and witnesses to incur such an expense of time and money in order to prove that he had committed an assault or any other offense that would amount to a violation of it? If so, such a recognizance, though it would operate as a security to the public against a citizen, would be of little avail against an alien. It cannot be conceived that they intended to put an alien in a more favorable situation than a citizen in such a case, and by difficulties thrown in the way to discourage and weaken, if not defeat the use of, a restraint found often to be very salutary in preserving the peace and quiet of the people. Many other inconveniences have been mentioned by the counsel which I shall not repeat. If, therefore, any other construction can be made, it ought to prevail.

Upon the whole, our opinion is that where a state has a controversy with an alien about a contract or other matter of a civil nature, the Supreme Court of the United states has original jurisdiction of it, and the circuit or district courts have nothing to do with such a case. The reason seems to be founded in a respect for the dignity of a state, that the action may be brought in the first instance before the highest tribunal, and also that this tribunal would be most likely to guard against the power and influence of a state over a foreigner. But that neither the Constitution nor the Congress ever contemplated that any court under the United States should take cognizance of anything favoring of criminality against a state; that the action before the court is of a criminal nature and for the punishment of a crime against the state; that yielding to the prayer of the petitioner would be highly inconvenient in itself and injurious in the precedent; and that cognizance of it would not be accepted by the circuit court, if sent to it, for even consent cannot confer jurisdiction. For these reasons and others omitted for the sake of brevity, I conclude the prayer of William Cobbet cannot be granted.

The Petition rejected.

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