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decided: November 19, 1923.



Author: Mcreynolds

[ 263 U.S. Page 268]

 MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The opinions below are reported in 266 Fed. 230; 274 Fed. 177; 279 Fed. 900; 282 Fed. 138.

In October, 1919, petitioner Craig, Comptroller of New York City, wrote and published a letter to Public Service Commissioner Nixon, wherein he assailed United States District Judge Mayer because of certain action taken in receivership proceedings then pending. The United States District Attorney filed an information charging him with criminal contempt under ยง 268, Judicial Code.

[ 263 U.S. Page 269]

     Having heard the evidence, given the matter prolonged consideration and offered the accused opportunity to retract, on February 24, 1921 -- some fifteen months after the offense -- Judge Mayer, holding the District Court, sentenced petitioner to jail for sixty days and committed him to the custody of the United States Marshal. Immediately, without making any effort to appeal, Craig presented his verified petition, addressed "To the Honorable Martin T. Manton, Circuit Judge of the United States," asking for a writ of habeas corpus and final discharge. The record of all evidence and proceedings before the District Court was annexed to or, by reference, made part of the petition. The judge promptly signed and issued the following writing, which bore neither seal of court nor clerk's attestation.

"The United States of America, Second Judicial Circuit, Southern District of New York.


"We command you that the body of Charles L. Craig, in your custody detained, as it is said, together with the day and cause of his caption and detention, you safely have before Honorable Marin T. Manton, United States Circuit Judge for the Second Judicial Circuit, within the Circuit and District aforesaid, to do and receive all and singular those things which the said judge shall then and there consider of him in this behalf; and have you then and there this writ.

"Witness the Honorable Martin T. Manton, United States Circuit Judge for the Second Judicial Circuit, this 24th day of February, 1921, and in the 145th year of the Independence of the United States of America. Martin T. Manton, U.S.C.J."

The Marshal made return, and set up the contempt proceedings in the District Court along with the order of commitment. This was traversed; and Judge Manton heard the cause. He said and ruled --

[ 263 U.S. Page 270]

     "Was there a cause pending within the rule of contempt concerning libelous publications? A cause is pending when it is still open to modifications, appeal or rehearing and until the final judgment is rendered. Did the letter concern a cause pending? If it did not, it could not obstruct the administration of justice. The application before the court which is the subject matter of the letter was the matter of a co-receiver. As to this the court had definitely decided adverse to the Comptroller. The court's action was complete in respect to this matter. . . . The district judge pointed out, as did the information, that the whole railroad situation was before the court, since it was an equity proceeding, but it is not of this that the defendant wrote. This is fully corroborated by the testimony of the defendant. He also testified that he had no intention of obstructing the delivery of justice or misbehaving himself so as to obstruct the administration of justice. He stands convicted upon his letter alone and such inferences as may be drawn therefrom. His conviction rests upon an issue between the court and the defendant, and it is one of terminology or interpretation. There is no criminal intent discoverable from this record to support the interpretation placed upon it by the court, nor was there pending sub judice a proceeding before the court at the time the letter was written. The conclusion is irresistible that the court exceeded its jurisdiction by an excess of power in adjudging the defendant guilty. The petition for discharge is granted."

"It is ordered that the papers in this proceeding be filed with the Clerk of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, in his office in the Post Office Building, inthe Borough of Manhattan, City of New York, and that this order be recorded in said court."

Circuit Judge Hough allowed an appeal. Being of opinion that Circuit Judges, as such, are without power

[ 263 U.S. Page 271]

     to grant writs of habeas corpus, the Circuit Court of Appeals treated the cause as determined by the District Court, to which Judge Manton had been assigned, and held -- "We find no reason why this case is not governed by the general rule that a habeas corpus proceeding cannot be used as a writ or error but must be limited to jurisdictional questions. . . . The sole question which could be considered in the habeas corpus proceedings was as to the jurisdiction of the District Judge. If he had jurisdiction of the person of the petitioner, Craig, and jurisdiction of the subject and authority to render the judgment which he pronounced, there was no right to inquire further in the habeas corpus proceedings, and no right to determine whether or not, in the exercise of that jurisdiction, the District Judge had committed error. If errors were committed, the law afforded a remedy therefor, but not by habeas corpus." It concluded that the District Court, Judge Mayer presiding, had jurisdiction of both offense and person, and reversed the order of discharge.

The court correctly held that United States Circuit Judges, as such, have no power to grant writs of habeas corpus.

Two sections of the Revised Statutes authorze the granting and issuing of such writs.

"Sec. 751. The Supreme Court and the circuit and district courts shall have power to issue writs of habeas corpus.

"Sec. 752. The several justices and judges of the said courts, within their respective jurisdictions, shall have power to grant writs of habeas corpus for the purpose of an inquiry into the cause of restraint of liberty."

The Judiciary Act of 1789 provided for the organization of Circuit Courts. Until 1869 they were presided over by District Judges and Justices of the Supreme Court. The Act of ...

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