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State judges and state courts, authorized by laws of their states to issue writs of habeas corpus, have undoubtedly a right to issue the writ in any case where a party is alleged to be illegally confined within their limits, unless it appear upon his application that he is confined under the authority, or claim and color of the authority, of the United States, by an officer of the government. If such fact appears upon the application the writ should be refused. If it does not appear, the judge or court issuing the writ has a right to inquire into the cause of imprisonment, and ascertain by what authority the person is held within the limits of the State; and it is the duty of the marshal, or other officer having the custody of the prisoner, to give, by a proper return, in formation in this respect. His return should be sufficient, in its detail of facts, to show distinctly that the imprisonment is under the authority, or claim and color of the authority, of the United States and to exclude the suspicion of imposition or oppression on his part.
Edward Tarble enlisted in the United States Army under a different name when he was under the age of 18, and without the consent of his father. Tarble was being held in custody and confinement by an Army lieutenant under charges of desertion. Tarble’s father filed a petition for habeas corpus. A court commissioner issued the writ of habeas corpus, commanding the lieutenant to have Tarble before the commissioner. The officer thereupon produced Tarble before the commissioner and made a return in writing to the writ, protesting that the commissioner had no jurisdiction in the premises. After argument, the commissioner held that Tarble was illegally imprisoned and detained by the lieutenant. The court commissioner commanded that the soldier be discharged from custody. The state supreme court affirmed. The United States brought a writ of error challenging the state supreme court’s judgment.
Did the State court commissioner have jurisdiction, upon habeas corpus, to inquire into the validity of the enlistment of soldiers into the military service of the United States, and to discharge them from such service when, in his judgment, their enlistment has not been made in conformity with the laws of the United States?
The Court reversed the judgment granting the writ. The Court held that the commissioner lacked jurisdiction to issue the writ of habeas corpus because the soldier was held by an officer of the United States, under the authority of the United States. The Court found that within the territorial limits of each state, there were two spheres of government, the state government and the federal government. Both were separate and distinct, except that the United States was supreme when any conflict arose.