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THE JURISDICTION OF THE FEDERAL COURTS.
SECTION 1. JUDICIAL POWER.
GORDON v. UNITED STATES.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES. 1865.
2 Wallace, 561; 117 United States, 697.
Appeal from the Court of Claims.
[Gordon, administrator of Fisher, presented a petition to the Court of Claims of the United States for damage done by United States troops in the War of 1812. The Court of Claims decided against him and he appealed to the Supreme Court which dismissed his appeal for want of jurisdiction. After the adjournment of the Court, Mr. Chief Justice Taney had prepared an opinion on the question of jurisdiction which he delivered to the clerk for submission to the judges when they should reassemble in December. Before they met, the Chief Justice died. This paper was carefully considered by the judges and it was proposed to make it the basis of the court's opinion in the case. No such opinion however was ever prepared, and this paper remained unpublished until 1886. While it was never formally accepted as the opinion of the Court, it has frequently been cited with approval in later cases.]
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY.
This case comes before the court upon appeal from the judg ment of the Court of Claims. The appeal is taken under the act of March 3, 1863, entitled "An Act to amend an Act to establish a court for the investigation of claims against the United States."
It will be seen by the sections above quoted that the claimant whose claim has been allowed by the Court of Claims, or upon appeal by the Supreme Court, is to be paid out of any general appropriation made by law for the payment and satisfaction of private claims: but no payment of any such claim is to be made
until the claim allowed has been estimated for by the Secretary of the Treasury, and Congress, upon such estimate, shall make an appropriation for its payment. Neither the Court of Claims, nor the Supreme Court can do anything more than certify their opinion to the Secretary of the Treasury, and it depends upon him, in the first place, to decide whether he will include it in his estimates of private claims, and if he should decide in favor of the claimant, it will then rest with Congress to determine whether they will or will not make an appropriation for its payment. Neither court can by any process enforce its judgment; and whether it is paid or not, does not depend upon the decision of either court, but upon the future action of the Secretary of the Treasury, and of Congress.
So far as the Court of Claims is concerned we see no objection to the provisions of this law. Congress may undoubtedly establish tribunals with special powers to examine testimony and decide, in the first instance, upon the validity and justice of any claim for money against the United States, subject to the supervision and control of Congress, or a head of any of the Executive Departments.
But whether this Court can be required or authorized to hear an appeal from such a tribunal, and give an opinion upon it without the power of pronouncing a judgment, and issuing the appropriate judicial process to carry it into effect, is a very different question, and rests on principles altogether different. The Supreme Court does not owe its existence or its powers to the Legislative Department of the government. It is created by the Constitution, and represents one of the three great divisions of power in the Government of the United States, to each of which the Constitution has assigned its appropriate duties and powers, and made each independent of the other in performing its appropriate functions. The power conferred on this court is exclusively judicial, and it cannot be required or authorized to exercise any other.
The 3rd Article of the Constitution, Section 1, provides that "the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." And the last clause of the same article, after giving this court original jurisdiction in the cases therein specified, provides that in all cases "the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as
to law and fact, with such exceptions and under such regulations as the Congress shall make."
The existence of this Court is, therefore, as essential to the organization of the government established by the Constitution as the election of a president or members of Congress. It is the tribunal which is ultimately to decide all judicial questions confided to the Government of the United States. No appeal is given from its decisions, nor any power given to the legislative or executive departments to interfere with its judgments or process of execution. Its jurisdiction and powers and duties being defined in the organic law of the government, and being all strictly judicial, Congress cannot require or authorize the court to exercise any other jurisdiction or power, or perform any other duty. Chancellor Kent says: "The judicial power of the United States is in point of origin and title equal with the other powers of the government, and is as exclusively vested in the court created by or pursuant to the Constitution, as the legislative power is vested in Congress, or the executive power in the President." 1 Kent Com. 290-291, 6th ed. See also Story Const., pp. 449-450.
The position and rank, therefore, assigned to this Court in the government of the United States, differ from that of the highest judicial power in England, which is subordinate to the legisla tive power, and bound to obey any law that Parliament may pass, although it may, in the opinion of the court, be in conflict with the principles of Magna Charta or the Petition of Rights. The reason for giving such unusual power to a judicial tribunal is obvious. It was necessary to give it from the complex character of the government of the United States, which is in part National and in part Federal: where two separate governments exercise certain powers of sovereignty over the same territory, each independent of the other within its appropriate sphere of action, and where there was, therefore, an absolute necessity, in order to preserve internal tranquillity, that there should be some tribunal to decide between the government of the United States and the government of a State whenever any controversy should arise as to their relative and respective powers in the common territory. The Supreme Court was created for that purpose, and to insure its impartiality it was absolutely necessary to make it independent of the legislative power, and the influence direct or indirect of Congress and the Executive. Hence the care with which its jurisdiction, powers and duties
are defined in the Constitution, and its independence of the legislative branch of the government secured.
It was to prevent an appeal to the sword and a dissolution of the compact that this Court, by the organic law, was made equal in origin and equal in title to the legislative and executive branches of the government: its powers defined, and limited, and made strictly judicial, and placed therefore beyond the reach of the powers delegated to the Legislative and Executive Departments. And it is upon the principle of the perfect independence of this Court, that in cases where the Constitution gives it original jurisdiction, the action of Congress has not been deemed necessary to regulate its exercise, or to prescribe the process to be used to bring the parties before the court, or to carry its judgment into execution. The jurisdiction and judicial power being vested in the court, it proceeded to prescribe its process and regulate its proceedings according to its own judgment, and Congress has never attempted to control or interfere with the action of the court in this respect.
The appellate power and jurisdiction are subject to such exceptions and regulations as the Congress shall make. But the appeal is given only from such inferior courts as Congress may ordain and establish to carry into effect the judicial power specifically granted to the United States. The inferior court, therefore, from which the appeal is taken, must be a judicial tribunal authorized to render a judgment which will bind the rights of the parties litigating before it, unless appealed from, and upon which the appropriate process of execution may be issued by the court to carry it into effect. And Congress cannot extend the appellate power of this Court beyond the limits prescribed by the Constitution, and can neither confer nor impose on it the authority or duty of hearing and determining an appeal from a Commissioner or Auditor, or any other tribunal exercising only special powers under an act of Congress; nor can Congress authorize or require this Court to express an opinion on a case where its judicial power could not be exercised, and where its judgment would not be final and conclusive upon the rights of the parties, and process of execution awarded to carry it into effect.
The award of execution is a part, and an essential part of every judgment passed by a court exercising judicial power. It is no judgment, in the legal sense of the term, without it. Without such an award the judgment would be inoperative and nuga
tory, leaving the aggrieved party without a remedy. It would be merely an opinion, which would remain a dead letter, and without any operation upon the rights of the parties, unless Congress should at some future time sanction it, and pass a law authorizing the court to carry its opinion into effect. Such is not the judicial power confided to this Court, in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction: yet it is the whole power that the Court is allowed to exercise under this act of Congress.
It is true the act speaks of the judgment or decree of this Court. But all that the Court is authorized to do is to certify its opinion to the Secretary of the Treasury, and if he inserts it in his estimates, and Congress sanctions it by an appropriation, it is then to be paid, but not otherwise. And when the Secretary asks for this appropriation, the propriety of the estimate for this claim, like all other estimates of the Secretary, will be opened to debate, and whether the appropriation will be made or not will depend upon the majority of each House. The real and ultimate judicial power will, therefore, be exercised by the Legislative Department, and not by that department to which the Constitution has confided it.
The Constitution of the United States delegates no judicial power to Congress. Its powers are confined to legislative duties, and restricted within certain prescribed limits. By the second section of Article VI., the laws of Congress are made the supreme law of the land only when they are made in pursuance of the legislative power specified in the Constitution; and by the Xth amendment the powers not delegated to the United States nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people. The reservation to the States respectively can only mean the reservation of the rights of sovereignty which they respectively possessed before the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, and which they had not parted from by that instrument. And any legislation by Congress beyond the limits of the power delegated, would be trespassing upon the rights of the State or the people, and would not be the supreme law of the land, but null and void; and it would be the duty of the courts to declare it so. For whether an act of Congress is within the limits of its delegated power or not is a judicial question, to be decided by the courts, the Constitution having, in express terms, declared that the judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under the Constitution,