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Ex parte McCardle

Citation. Ex parte McCardle, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 506, 19 L.Ed. 264 (1868)

Brief Fact Summary.

In 1789, Congress enacted a statute granting circuit courts the authority to grant writs of habeas corpus and the Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction.  McCardle was being held in custody by military authority for publishing articles critical of the government in his newspaper.  McCardle was issued a writ of habeas corpus, but in 1867 during his appeal, Congress repealed the statute, removing the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction over such cases.

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Synopsis of Rule of Law.

While the Supreme Court is granted authority to exercise its appellate jurisdiction from the Constitution and not through acts of Congress, the Constitution grants Congress the power to make exceptions and to regulate the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction.

Facts.

Article III of the Constitution gives Congress authority to create “such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”  Thus, inferior courts are not guaranteed by the Constitution and exist, theoretically, at the pleasure of Congress.  Pursuant to this authority, Congress in 1789 enacted a statute granting circuit courts the authority to grant writs of habeas corpus and the Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction.  McCardle was being held in custody by military authority for publishing articles critical of the government in his newspaper.  McCardle was issued a writ of habeas corpus, but during his appeal, Congress repealed the statute, removing the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction over such cases.  Article III Sec. 2 Cl. 2 of the Constitution ordains that, “The Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations, as the Congress shall make.”

Issue.

Whether Congress could repeal appellate jurisdiction that it had previously granted to the Supreme Court.

Held.

Yes.  The Supreme Court is conferred appellate jurisdiction by the Constitution, but the Constitution, under the Exceptions Clause, also confers to Congress the power to regulate and to make exceptions to the Court’s appellate jurisdiction.  In a prior case, Durousseau v. The United States (1810), the Court reasoned that its appellate powers were “limited and regulated by [Congressional] act[s].”  Therefore, because Congress removed the Court’s appellate jurisdiction, the Court could only announce that it did not have jurisdiction and dismiss the case.  Finally, repealing the statute did not deny the Court entirely of its appellate power to hear habeas cases because the 1868 act did not “except from [the Court’s appellate] jurisdiction any cases but appeals from Circuit Courts under the act of 1867.”


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