OTHER parts of the judicial power are by acts of congress provided for as follows: —

If a suit be commenced in a state court against an alien, or by a citizen of the state in which a suit is brought against a citizen of another state; the defendant may have the benefit of the unbiassed judicatures of the United States, by removing the suit into the circuit court of the same district, provided it be done immediately, for the complainant ought not to suffer by the hesitation or delay of his opponent — but if the alien or citizen of another state has commenced the suit, he cannot afterwards remove it, for he is bound by his own election, nor can the defendant remove it, for he is not to be apprehensive of the injustice of the courts of his own state.

If there is a controversy in a state court respecting the title to land between two citizens of the same state, and either party shall make it appear to the court, that he claims and shall rely upon a right under a grant from a state other than that in which the suit is pending, and the other party claims under a grant from the last mentioned state, the party claiming under the grant first mentioned, whether plaintiff or defendant, may remove the suit to the circuit court for the same district, but neither party so removing the cause, shall be allowed to plead or give evidence on the trial in the circuit court of any other title than that by him so stated as the ground of his claim. This is perfectly consistent with the principle, that in all controversies the most impartial tribunal that can be formed, shall be selected, and the propriety of adopting this somewhat circuitous mode, instead of enabling the claimant under the grant of another state to bring his action at once in the United States court, arises from the juridical rule that the defendant, unless some express provision is made to compel him, shall not at law be obliged to show on what title he relies, before the commencement of the trial. A citizen of another state or an alien, (in those cases where an alien may hold land,) is not obliged nor indeed allowed to adopt this course, because he may commence a suit in the United States courts or remove it there, as noticed before, immediately on its, being commenced against him, and it is his own folly not to avail himself of this benefit in the first instance.

No other court of the United States than the supreme court can entertain a suit brought by a state, either against another state or against individuals. In this respect, congress has no further legislated than to declare that the jurisdiction of the supreme court shall be exclusive, except between a state and its citizens. This inference would indeed flow from the words of the Constitution, which could never be so construed as to prevent a state from suing its own citizens, or those of other states or aliens, in its own courts. In regard to suits against states, they were unknown before the Constitution, and since the amendment already adverted to, the only remaining class is above the jurisdiction of the circuit courts.

Jurisdiction by way of appeal or writ of error, according to the nature of the case, is given to the circuit from the district court, and to the supreme from the circuit court. But a pecuniary qualification is annexed both to the original and appellate jurisdiction in most cases. The district court has cognizance of all civil suits brought by the United States where the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, amounts to one hundred dollars. The original jurisdiction of the circuit court is described as applying to cases where the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, exceeds five hundred dollars. Yet it would seem, that if any sum exceeding three hundred dollars was found due, the court could sustain the jurisdiction, although the plaintiff would be liable to costs. To sustain the jurisdiction on a suit for the violation of a patent right, any sum, however small, that may be recovered, is sufficient.

To sustain the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court on writs of error, the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, must exceed two thousand dollars. There is perhaps too much disproportion in these sums, and there seems little reason for excluding a stranger or a citizen of another state from the benefit of a revision of the judgment, for any sum below five hundred dollars. No pecuniary limit is adverted to in the Constitution, and although there is weight in the suggestion that the dignity of a court is impaired by giving an ear to trifling controversies, yet the humblest suitor is entitled in some shape to relief; and the principle on which the classification of the subjects of judicial cognizance is founded, ought not to be impaired by a standard of value, which to a poor man may amount to a denial of justice.

In this chapter, there is (as occasionally elsewhere) a deviation from the original plan of confining ourselves to an exposition of the Constitution. The legislative developement of principles, briefly expressed in the great text, when it correctly explains and applies those principles, is highly useful.

Next | Previous | Contents | Text Version