About

CHAPTER XXVII.

OF THE PLACES IN WHICH THE JURISDICTION IS TO BE EXERCISED.

HAVING thus shown the subjects to which this jurisdiction extends, and the courts among which it is distributed, we shall proceed to consider the places in which it is to be exercised, and the rules and principles by which it is to be administered.

The geographical limits of the United States and those of the territories, are subject to the jurisdiction of all the courts of the United States, in all matters within the scope of their authority.

For the better administration of justice, the United States are divided into districts, in forming which, the convenience of suitors is chiefly consulted. It has ever been a principle with us, to bring justice as

much as possible home to the doors of the people. These districts may be altered at the pleasure of congress. The jurisdiction of the particular courts is of course confided to them. But some courts possessing only a special jurisdiction as to the subject, are without restriction as to the place. Such is the senate in respect to impeachments, both houses when acting judicially in respect to contempts and breaches of privileges, and courts martial.

The extent of the admiralty jurisdiction at sea, has already been noticed.

In these the subjects are limited, but a general jurisdiction appertains to the United States over ceded territories or districts.

If the land, at the time of cession, is uninhabited, except by the Indians, of whose polity we take no account, it is in the power of congress to make such regulations for its government as they may think proper. Whoever subsequently becomes an inhabitant, is of course bound to conform to the system which may be thus established; if there be a number of civilized inhabitants previously settled there, enjoying the advantages of a particular code of laws, they have a just right to claim a continuance of those laws. Thus in the first cession of this kind, which was from the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Virginia, and formed what was termed the territory North-west of the Ohio, there was a saving to the French and Canadian inhabitants, and other settlers of the Kaskaskias, St. Vincents, and the neighbouring villages, who had theretofore professed themselves citizens of Virginia, of the laws and customs then in force among them relative to the descent and conveyance of property, and in the treaty by which Louisiana was ceded to the United States in 1803, it was expressly stipulated that the inhabitants should retain their ancient laws and usages.

With these restrictions, congress has always been considered as entitled not only to regulate the form of government, but also to reserve to themselves the approbation or rejection of such laws, as may be passed by the legislative power which they may establish. In regulating the government of the territory north-west of the Ohio, which was the act of congress under the confederation, and which has been the model of most of the subsequent regulations of the same nature, it is declared that the governor and judges who, until the population amounted to five thousand male inhabitants, were to compose their legislature, should adopt such laws of the original states as might be necessary and suitable to their circumstances, which, unless disapproved by congress, should be in force until the organization of a general assembly, which was to take place when the population reached the number before mentioned. These laws may therefore be considered as emanating from the United States, and the judicial authority is to be regarded as the judicial authority of the United States.

In respect to those portions of land which become the property of the United States for the purposes of arsenals, dockyards, &c. it may be observed, that exclusive legislation generally implies exclusive jurisdiction. Yet the peculiar nature of this possession may require some qualification, and, therefore, a reservation by a state of the power to serve its civil and criminal process therein by its own officers, is not objectionable. It prevents the particular spot from becoming a sanctuary for criminals or debtors, and from the assent of the United States it results, that the state officers, in executing such process, act under the authority of the United States. 1 Indeed, a general provision to this effect has been made by an act of congress, 2 although no reservation be made by the state.

The power of exercising exclusive legislation over such districts as should become the seat of government, like all others which are specified, is conferred on congress, not as a mere local legislature, but as the legislature of the Union, and cannot be exercised in any other character. A law passed in pursuance of it is the supreme law of the land; is binding as such on the states, and a law of a state to defeat it would be void. The power to pass such a law, carries with it all those incidental powers which are necessary to its complete and effectual execution; and such law may, it seems, be extended in its collateral operation throughout the United States, if congress think it necessary to do so. But if it be intended to give it a binding efficacy beyond the district, language showing this intention ought to be used, especially if it is to extend into the particular states, and to limit and control their penal laws. 3

So also the power vested in congress to legislate exclusively within any other place ceded by a state, carries with it a right to make that power effectual. They may therefore provide by law for apprehending a person who escapes from a fort, &c. after committing a felony, and for conveying him to or from any other place for trial or execution. So they may punish those for misprision of felony, who, out of a fort conceal a felony committed within it. 4

Where a fortress within the acknowledged limits of a state, was surrendered under the treaty of 1794 with Great Britain, and was afterwards constantly possessed and garrisoned by the United States, but was never purchased from the state by the United States, or ceded to the latter by the former, the United States do not possess the right of exclusive legislation or exclusive jurisdiction over such fortress, but crimes committed therein may be punished under the laws and by the courts of the state. To give the United States exclusive legislation and jurisdiction over a place, there must be a free cession of the same, for one of the purposes specified in the Constitution. They cannot acquire it tortiously or by disseisin of the state, or by occupancy with merely the tacit consent of the state, when such occupancy is as a military post, though obtained after a treaty by which foreign garrisons were withdrawn from our posts. And the rule is the same, although the title to such place be vested in the United States, by purchases from individuals, and it has been occupied by them as a military post; for if there has been no cession by the legislature of the state to the United States, the right of legislation and jurisdiction over such place, remains exclusively in the state where it is situated. 5


1. Commonwealth v. Clary, 8 Mass. 72.

2. Act of March 2, 1795.

3. Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheaton, 264. See United States v. Moore, 3 Cranch, 159.

4. 6 Wheaton, 264.

5. Hall's Journal of Jurisprudence, p. 47.


Next | Previous | Contents | Text Version





















privacy policy