EX PARTE QUIRIN, 317 U. S. 1 (1942)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ex Parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1 (1942)

Ex Parte Quirin{|317 U.S. 1fn1|1}

Nos. ___, Original




United States ex rel. Quirin v. Cox{|317 U.S. 1fn2|2}

Nos. 1-7



Argued July 29-30, 1942

Decided July 31, 1942

Per Curiam decision filed, July 31, 1942{|317 U.S. 1fn3|3}

Full Opinion filed, October 29, 1942{|317 U.S. 1fn4|4}

317 U.S. 1


1. A federal court may refuse to issue a writ of habeas corpus where the facts alleged in the petition, if proved, would not warrant discharge of the prisoner. P. 317 U. S. 24.

Page 317 U. S. 2

2. Presentation to the District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia of a petition for habeas corpus was the institution of a suit, and denial by that court of leave to file the petition was a judicial determination of a case or controversy reviewable by appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and in this Court by certiorari. P. 317 U. S. 24.

3. The President's Proclamation of July 2, 1942, declaring that all persons who are citizens or subjects of, or who act under the direction of, any nation at war with the United States, and who during time of war enter the United States through coastal or boundary defenses, and are charged with committing or attempting to commit sabotage, espionage, hostile acts, or violations of the law of war, "shall be subject to the law of war and to the jurisdiction of military tribunals," does not bar accused persons from access to the civil courts for the purpose of determining the applicability of the Proclamation to the particular case; nor does the Proclamation, which in terms denied to such persons access to the courts, nor the enemy alienage of the accused, foreclose consideration by the civil courts of the contention that the Constitution and laws of the United States forbid their trial by military commission. P. 317 U. S. 24.

4. In time of war between the United States and Germany, petitioners, wearing German military uniforms and carrying explosives, fuses, and incendiary and time devices, were landed from German submarines in the hours of darkness, at places on the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Thereupon they buried the uniforms and supplies, and proceeded, in civilian dress, to various places in the United States. All had received instructions in Germany from an officer of the German High Command to destroy war industries and war facilities in the United States, for which they or their relatives in Germany were to receive salary payments from the German Government. They also had been paid by the German Government during their course of training at a sabotage school, and had with them, when arrested, substantial amounts of United States currency, which had been handed to them by an officer of the German High Command, who had instructed them to wear their German uniforms while landing in the United States. Specification 1 of the charges on which they were placed on trial before a military commission charged that they,

"being enemies of the United States and acting for . . . the German Reich, a belligerent enemy nation, secretly and covertly passed, in civilian dress, contrary to the law of war, through the military and naval lines and defenses of the United

Page 317 U. S. 3

States . . . and went behind such lines, contrary to the law of war, in civilian dress . . . for the purpose of committing . . . hostile acts, and, in particular, to destroy certain war industries, war utilities and war materials within the United States."


(1) That the specification sufficiently charged an offense against the law of war which the President was authorized to order tried by a military commission; notwithstanding the fact that, ever since their arrest, the courts in the jurisdictions where they entered the country and where they were arrested and held for trial were open and functioning normally. @ 71 U. S. 21, 317 U. S. 23, 317 U. S. 36, 317 U. S. 48.

(2) The President's Order of July 2, 1942, so far as it lays down the procedure to be followed on the trial before the Commission and on the review of its findings and sentence, and the procedure in fact followed by the Commission, were not in conflict with Articles of War 38, 43, 46, 50 1/2 and 70. P. 317 U. S. 46.

(3) The petitioners were in lawful custody for trial by a military commission, and, upon petitions for writs of habeas corpus, did not show cause for their discharge. P. 317 U. S. 47.

5. Articles 15, 38 and 46 of the Articles of War, enacted by Congress, recognize the "military commission" as an appropriate tribunal for the trial and punishment of offenses against the law of war not ordinarily tried by courts-martial. And by the Articles of War, especially Article 15, Congress has explicitly provided, so far as it may constitutionally do so, that military tribunals shall have jurisdiction to try offenses against the law of war in appropriate cases. Pp. 317 U. S. 26-28.

6. Congress, in addition to making rules for the government of our Armed Forces, by the Articles of War has exercised its authority under Art. I, § 8, cl. 10 of the Constitution to define and punish offenses against the law of nations, of which the law of war is a part, by sanctioning, within constitutional limitations, the jurisdiction of military commissions to try persons for offenses which, according to the rules and precepts of the law of nations, and more particularly the law of war, are cognizable by such tribunals. And by Article of War 15, Congress has incorporated by reference, as within the jurisdiction of military commissions, all offenses which are defined as such by the law of war and which may constitutionally be included within that jurisdiction. Pp. 317 U. S. 28, 317 U. S. 30.

7. This Court has always recognized and applied the law of war as including that part of the law of nations which prescribes, for the

Page 317 U. S. 4

conduct of war, the status, rights and duties of enemy nations as well as of enemy individuals. P. 317 U. S. 27.

8. The offense charged in this case was an offense against the law of war, the trial of which by military commission had been authorized by Congress, and which the Constitution does not require to be tried by jury. @ 71 U. S. 45.

9. By the law of war, lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war; unlawful combatants, in addition, are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful. P. 317 U. S. 30.

10. It has long been accepted practice by our military authorities to treat those who, during time of war, pass surreptitiously from enemy territory into our own, discarding their uniforms upon entry, for the commission of hostile acts involving destruction of life or property, as unlawful combatants punishable as such by military commission. This practice, accepted and followed by other governments, must be regarded as a rule or principle of the law of war recognized by this Government by its enactment of the Fifteenth Article of War. P. 317 U. S. 35.

11. Citizens of the United States who associate themselves with the military arm of an enemy government, and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts, are enemy belligerents within the meaning of the Hague Convention and the law of war. P. 317 U. S. 37.

12. Even when committed by a citizen, the offense here charged is distinct from the crime of treason defined in Article III, § 3 of the Constitution, since the absence of uniform essential to one is irrelevant to the other. P. 317 U. S. 38.

13. Article III, § 2, and the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution did not extend the right to demand a jury to trials by military commission or require that offenses against the law of war, not triable by jury at common law, be tried only in civil courts. P. 317 U. S. 38.

14. Section 2 of the Act of Congress of April 10, 1806, derived from the Resolution of the Continental Congress of August 21, 1776, and which imposed the death penalty on alien spies "according to the law and usage of nations, by sentence of a general court martial," was a contemporary construction of Article III, § 2 of the Constitution and of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, as not foreclosing trial by military tribunals, without a jury, for offenses against the law of war

Page 317 U. S. 5

committed by enemies not in or associated with our Armed Forces. It is a construction which has been followed since the founding of our government, and is now continued in the 82nd Article of War. Such a construction is entitled to great respect. P. 317 U. S. 41.

15. Since violation of the law of war is adequately alleged in this case, the Court finds no occasion to consider the validity of other specifications based on the 81st and 82nd Article of War, or to construe those articles or decide upon their constitutionality a so construed. P. 317 U. S. 46.

Leave to file petitions for habeas corpus in this Court denied. Orders of District Court (47 F.Supp. 431), affirmed.

The Court met in Special Term, on Wednesday, July 29, 1942, pursuant to a call by the Chief Justice having the approval of all the Associate Justices.

The Chief Justice announced that the Court had convened in Special Term in order that certain applications might be presented to it and argument be heard in respect thereto.

In response to an inquiry by the Chief Justice, the Attorney General stated that the Chief Justice's son, Major Lauson H. Stone, U.S.A. had, under orders, assisted defense counsel before the Military Commission, in the case relative to which the Special Term of the Court was called; but that Major Stone had had no connection with this proceeding before this Court. Therefore, said the Attorney General, counsel for all the respective parties in this proceeding joined in urging the Chief Justice to participate in the consideration and decision of the matters to be presented. Colonel Kenneth C. Royall, of counselor the petitioners, concurred in the statement and request of the Attorney General.

The applications, seven in number (ante, p. 1, n 1), first took the form of petitions to this Court for leave to file petitions for writs of habeas corpus to secure the release of the petitioners from the custody of Brigadier General

Page 317 U. S. 6

Albert L. Cox, U.S.A. Provost Marshal of the Military District of Washington, who, pursuant to orders, was holding them in that District for and during a trial before a Military Commission constituted by an Order of the President of the United States. During the course of the argument, the petitioners were permitted to file petitions for writs of certiorari, directed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to review, before judgment by that Court, orders then before it by appeal by which the District Court for the District of Columbia had denied applications for leave to file petitions for writs of habeas corpus.

After the argument, this Court delivered a Per Curiam Opinion, disposing of the cases (footnote, p. 317 U. S. 18). A full opinion, which is the basis of this Report, was filed with the Clerk of the Court on October 29, 1942.

Page 317 U. S. 18

[Footnote 1]

No. ___, Original, Ex parte Richard Quirin; No. ___, Original, Ex parte Herbert Hans Haupt; No. ___, Original, Ex parte Edward John Kerling; No. ___, Original, Ex parte Ernest Peter Burger; No. ___, Original, Ex parte Heinrich Harm Heinck; No. ___, Original, Ex parte Werner Thiel; and No. ___, Original, Ex parte Hermann Otto Neubauer.

[Footnote 2]

No. 1, United States ex rel. Quirin v. Cox, Provost Marshal; No. 2, United States ex rel. Haupt v. Cox, Provost Marshal; No. 3, United States ex rel. Kerlin v. Cox, Provost Marshal; No. 4, United States ex rel. Burger v. Cox, Provost Marshal; No. 5, United States ex rel. Heinck v. Cox, Provost Marshal; No. 6, United States ex rel. Thiel v. Cox, Provost Marshal, and No. 7, United States ex rel. Neubauer v. Cox, Provost Marshal.

[Footnote 3]

The following is the per curiam opinion filed July 31, 1942:


"In these causes, motions for leave to file petitions for habeas corpus were presented to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which entered orders denying the motions. Motions for leave to file petitions for habeas corpus were then presented to this Court, and the merits of the applications were fully argued at the Special Term of Court convened on July 29, 1942. Counsel for petitioners subsequently filed a notice of appeal from the order of the District Court to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and they have perfected their appeals to that court. They have presented to this Court petitions for writs of certiorari before judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 347(a). The petitions are granted. In accordance with the stipulation between counsel for petitioners and for the respondent, the papers filed and argument had in connection with the applications for leave to file petitions for habeas corpus are made applicable to the certiorari proceedings."

"The Court has fully considered the questions raised in these cases and thoroughly argued at the bar, and has reached its conclusion upon them. It now announces its decision and enters its judgment in each case, in advance of the preparation of a full opinion, which necessarily will require a considerable period of time for its preparation and which, when prepared, will be filed with the Clerk."

"The Court holds:"

"(1) That the charges preferred against petitioners on which they are being tried by military commission appointed by the order of the President of July 2, 1942, allege an offense or offenses which the President is authorized to order tried before a military commission."

"(2) That the military commission was lawfully constituted."

"(3) That petitioners are held in lawful custody for trial before the military commission, and have not shown cause for being discharged by writ of habeas corpus."

"The motions for leave to file petitions for writs of habeas corpus are denied."

"The orders of the District Court are affirmed. The mandates are directed to issue forthwith."

"MR. JUSTICE MURPHY took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases."

[Footnote 4]

Post, p. 317 U. S. 18.

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