Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

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Law School Case Brief

Ex parte Va. - 100 U.S. 339 (1879)


The Fourteenth Amendment secures, among other civil rights, to minorities, when charged with criminal offences against a state, an impartial jury trial, by jurors indifferently selected or chosen without discrimination against such jurors because of their race. Immunity from any such discrimination is one of the equal rights of all persons, and that any withholding it by a state is a denial of the equal protection of the laws, within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Such an equal right to an impartial jury trial, and such an immunity from unfriendly discrimination, are placed by the Fourteenth Amendment under the protection of the general government and guaranteed by it. This protection and this guarantee, as the fifth section of the Fourteenth Amendment expressly ordains, may be enforced by Congress by means of appropriate legislation. 


A judge of a county court in Virginia was indicted for excluding and failing to select as grand jurors and petit jurors certain citizens of his county, of African race and black color, who possessing all other qualifications prescribed by law, were excluded from the jury lists made out by him as such officer, on account of their race, color, and previous condition of servitude. Being in custody under that indictment, he filed a petition for the writ of habeas corpus and a writ of certiorari contending that the court had no jurisdiction over the indictment and bench warrant, which was not a final judgment. They also argued that the finding of the indictment was not warranted by the Constitution.


Did the Court have jurisdiction?




The court denied the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court held that it had jurisdiction to grant or deny the writ of habeas corpus. Where an inmate allegedly has been held without any lawful authority, and by an order beyond the jurisdiction of an inferior federal court to make, the Supreme Court had the power, in favor of liberty, to grant the writ, not to review the whole case, but to examine the authority of the lower court to act. The court also found that the Act of Congress of March 1, 1875, 18 Stat. 3, 336, was constitutional and that the inmate was correctly held to answer it. The Fourteenth Amendmentprohibited the states from depriving their citizens of equal protection, including immunity from discrimination against jurors on the basis of their race. Also, the Fourteenth Amendment expressly gave authority for congressional interference in state's rights in order to protect the privileges and immunities of citizens.

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