Ex parte Yerger

75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 85 (1869)



The first Congress under the Constitution, after defining, by various sections of the Act of Congress of the 24th of September, 1789, 1 Stat. 81, the jurisdiction of the district courts, the circuit courts, and the United States Supreme Court in other cases, proceeded, in § 14 of the Act, to enact, that all the beforementioned courts of the United States shall have power to issue writs of scire facias, habeas corpus, and all other writs, not specially provided by statute, which may be necessary for the exercise of their respective jurisdictions, and agreeable to the principles and usages of law. In the same section, it is further provided that either of the Justices of the Supreme Court, as well as judges of the district courts, shall have power to grant writs of habeas corpus for the purpose of an inquiry into the cause of commitment; provided that writs of habeas corpus shall in no case extend to prisoners in jail, unless they are in custody, under, or by color of the authority of the United States, or are committed for trial before some court of the same, or are necessary to be brought into court to testify.


A private citizen, who was not a member of the military, was under military custody to answer a murder charge before a military commission. He filed his writ of habeas corpus to challenge the military commission's power to hold him. The circuit court denied his writ and ordered him to be returned to military custody. The Attorney General sought a ruling on whether the Court had jurisdiction under the Judiciary Act of 1789, to inquire into the cause of the citizen's detention and to give relief by a writ of habeas corpus if it found that the detention was unlawful. 


Does the Supreme Court of the United States have appellate jurisdiction to review the decision of the circuit court not to release a citizen in military custody?




The court held that it did have jurisdiction in its appellate power to revise the decision of the circuit court, if it found that such revision was appropriate in this case, and to relieve petitioner from unlawful imprisonment. The Court ruled that its jurisdiction in the matter was not repealed by subsequent Congressional acts in 1867 and 1868. Such a construction of the acts in question would have had the effect of repealing the jurisdiction given in the Judiciary Act of 1787 by implication. Repeal by implication was disfavored. Further, the Court ruled that it had jurisdiction, if needed, to issue the writ of habeas corpus to a military commission to produce a prisoner held on a murder charge.

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