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Law School Case Brief

Ex parte McCardle - 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 506 (1869)

Rule:

Without jurisdiction the United States Supreme Court cannot proceed at all in any cause. Jurisdiction is power to declare the law, and when it ceases to exist, the only function remaining to the court is that of announcing the fact and dismissing the cause. And this is not less clear upon authority than upon principle. 

Facts:

During the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, McCardle was being held in custody for trial before a military commission upon charges founded upon the publication of articles alleged to be incendiary and libelous, in a newspaper of which he was editor. A statute was in force that provided that judicial courts of the United States had the power to grant a writ of habeas corpus. That statute, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867, further stated that an appeal could be taken to the circuit court of the United States for the district, and from the judgment of the circuit court, to the U.S. Supreme Court. A later statute passed in 1868 repealed the earlier statute to disallow an appeal from the judgment of the circuit court to the Supreme Court or the exercise of any such jurisdiction by the Supreme Court on appeals. McCardle challenged a judgment from the Circuit Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, which denied his application for habeas corpus relief from his custody by military authorities while his trial was pending before a military commission.

Issue:

Was McCardle’s appeal meritorious?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Court dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction because the provision of the earlier act had been expressly repealed. The Court, however, did note that in cases of habeas corpus, the whole appellate power of the court was not denied. The later act did not except from that jurisdiction any cases but appeals from circuit courts under the earlier act.

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