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Techt v. Hughes

    Brief Fact Summary. Despite the fact that the U.S. and Austria were at war, Techt (D) claimed that she was entitled to take property in New York on the basis of the 1848 Treaty between the United States and Austria.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The court must decide whether the provision involved in a controversy is inconsistent with national policy or safety in a situation whereby a treaty between belligerents at war has not been denounced.

    Facts. Techt’s (D) dad who was an American citizen, died intestate in New York. His daughter, Techt (D) had tied the knot with an Austro-Hungarian citizen and under federal law at the time; she had lost her United States citizenship as a result. The New York law allowed Techt (D) to take property as inheritance if she were to be an alien friend. When the court established this fact and that she could claim half the inheritance, her sister appealed on the ground that she was entitled to the whole property because Techt (D) was an alien enemy. The appeals court found Techt (D) to be an alien enemy at this time because the U.S. was at war with Austria-Hungary in 1919. Techt (D0 however based her argument on the terms of the Treaty of 1848 between the U.S. and Austria nationals of either state could take real property by descent.

    Issue. Must the court decide whether the provision involved in a controversy is inconsistent with national policy or safety in a situation whereby a treaty between belligerents at war has not been denounced?

    Held. (Cardozo, J.) Yes. The court must decide whether the provision involved in a controversy is inconsistent with national policy or safety in a situation whereby a treaty between belligerents at war has not been denounced. If a treaty is in force, it implies that it is the supreme law of the land. There is nothing incompatible with the policy of the government, safety of the nation, or the maintenance of the war in the enforcement of this treaty, so as to sustain Techt’s (D) title. Affirmed.

    Discussion. The effect of war on the existing treaties of belligerents is an unsettled area of the law and this was noted by the court.  Some have opined that treaties end ipso facto at time of war. But in this case, the court found that treaties end only to the extent that their execution is incompatible with the war.


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