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Law School Case Brief

Johnson v. Eisentrager - 339 U.S. 763, 70 S. Ct. 936 (1950)


The alien, to whom the United States has been traditionally hospitable, has been accorded a generous and ascending scale of rights as he increases his identity with our society. Mere lawful presence in the country creates an implied assurance of safe conduct and gives him certain rights; they become more extensive and secure when he makes preliminary declaration of intention to become a citizen, and they expand to those of full citizenship upon naturalization. During his probationary residence, the court has steadily enlarged his right against executive deportation except upon full and fair hearing. And, at least since 1886, the United States has extended to the person and property of resident aliens important constitutional guaranties -- such as the due process of law of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Petitioners have been convicted of violating laws of war, by engaging in, permitting or ordering continued military activity against the United States after surrender of Germany and before surrender of Japan. Petitioners were repatriated to Germany to serve their sentences. Their petition for habeas corpus alleged that their trial, conviction, and imprisonment violated U.S. Const. arts. I and III, and U.S. Const. amend. V. The court of appeals held that any person, including an enemy alien deprived of his liberty anywhere under any purported authority of the United States, was entitled to the writ if he could show that extension to his case of any constitutional rights or limitations would show his imprisonment illegal. 


Did petitioners possess a constitutional right to personal security or immunity from military trial and punishment?




The Court held that the Constitution did not confer a right of personal security or an immunity from military trial and punishment upon an alien enemy engaged in the hostile service of a government at war with the United States. The Court further found that the petition failed to allege any fact showing lack of jurisdiction in the respondents to accuse, try and condemn petitioners or that respondents acted in excess of their lawful powers.

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