Martin v. Hunter's Lessee

14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 304 (1816)



Congress cannot vest any portion of the judicial power of the United States, except in courts ordained and established by itself; and if in any of the cases enumerated in the constitution, the state courts did not then possess jurisdiction, the appellate jurisdiction of the supreme court (admitting that it could act on state courts) could not reach those cases, and, consequently, the injunction of the constitution, that the judicial power "shall be vested," would be disobeyed. It would seem, therefore, to follow, that congress are bound to create some inferior courts, in which to vest all that jurisdiction which, under the constitution, is exclusively vested in the United States, and of which the supreme court cannot take original cognizance. They might establish one or more inferior courts; they might parcel out the jurisdiction among such courts, from time to time, at their own pleasure. But the whole judicial power of the United States should be, at all times, vested either in an original or appellate form, in some courts created under its authority. 


The original suit was an action of ejectment, brought by defendant in error, in one of the district courts of Virginia for the recovery of a parcel of land, situate within that tract, called the northern neck of Virginia. The court decided in favor of defendant in ejectment. The lessee appealed to the court of appeals, and the Court of Appeals  of Virginia reversed the judgment of the district court. The case was elevated to the Supreme Court of the United States, which reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals of Virginia regarding a land ejectment action. Unfortunately, the court of appeals refused to obey the mandate of the Supreme Court because it determined that the appellate power of the Supreme Court did not extend to the state court of appeals. Thus, the cause was brought again to the Supreme Court on writ of error. 


Did the Supreme Court have appellate jurisdiction over state courts of appeal?




The Supreme Court of the United States held that the appellate power of the Court did extend to cases pending in the state courts and that the Judiciary Act § 25, which authorized the exercise of that jurisdiction in the specified cases, by a writ of error, was supported by the Constitution. The Court reasoned that appellate review of state court decisions guaranteed uniformity of laws, avoided state jealousies and biased interests, and entitled a defendant with the power of removal, which assured defendants equality in asserting their constitutional rights.

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