100 U.S. 313 (1880), Commonwealth Of Virginia v. Rives

Citation:100 U.S. 313, 25 L.Ed. 667
Case Date:March 01, 1880
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 313

100 U.S. 313 (1880)

25 L.Ed. 667




United States Supreme Court.

March 01, 1880


PETITION for mandamus.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.


Page 314

Mr. James G. Field, Attorney-General of Virginia, and Mr William J. Robertson for the petitioner.

Mr. Charles Devens and Mr. W. Willoughby, contra.

MR. JUSTICE STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.

The questions presented in this case arise out of the following facts:----

Burwell Reynolds and Lee Reynolds, two colored men, were jointly indicted for murder in the county court of Patrick County, Virginia, at its January Term, 1878. The case having been removed into the Circuit Court of the State, and brought on for trial, the defendants moved the court that the venire, which was composed entirely of the white race, be modified so as to allow one-third thereof to be composed of colored

Page 315

men. This motion was overruled on the ground that the court 'had no authority to change the venire, it appearing (as the record stated) to the satisfaction of the court that the venire had been regularly drawn from the jury-box according to law.' Thereupon the defendants, before the trial, filed their petition, duly verified, praying for a removal of the case into the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Virginia. This petition represented that the petitioners were negroes, aged respectively seventeen and nineteen years, and that the man whom they were charged with having murdered was a white man. It further alleged that the right secured to the petitioners by the law providing for the equal civil rights of all the citizens of the United States was denied to them in the judicial tribunals of the county of Patrick, of which county they are natives and citizens; that by the laws of Virginia all male citizens, twenty-one years of age, and not over sixty, who are entitled to vote and hold office under the Constitution and laws of the State, are made liable to serve as jurors; that this law allows the right, as well as requires the duty, of the race to which the petitioners belong to serve as jurors; yet that the grand jury who found the indictment against them, as well as the jurors summoned to try them, were composed entirely of the white race. The petitioners further represented that they had applied to the judge of the court, to the prosecuting attorney, and to his assistant counsel, that a portion of the jury by which they were to be tried should be composed in part of competent jurors of their own race and color, but that this right had been refused them. The petition further alleged that a strong prejudice existed in the community of the county against them, independent of the merits of the case, and based solely upon the fact that they are negroes, and that the man they were accused of having murdered was a white man. From that fact alone they were satisfied they could not obtain an impartial trial before a jury exclusively composed of the white race. The petitioners further represented that their race had never been allowed the right to serve as jurors, either in civil or criminal cases, in the county of Patrick, in any case, civil or criminal, in which their race had been in any way interested. They therefore prayed that the prosecution might be removed

Page 316

into the Circuit Court of the United States. The State court denied this prayer, and proceeded with the trial, when each of the defendants was convicted. The verdicts and judgments were, however, set aside, and a motion for a removal of the case was renewed on the same petition, and again denied. The defendants were then tried again separately. One was convicted and sentenced, and a bill of exceptions was duly signed and made part of the record. In the other case the jury disagreed.

In this stage of the proceedings a copy of the record was obtained, the cases were, upon petition, ordered to be docketed in the Circuit Court of the United States, Nov. 18, 1878, which was at its next succeeding term after the first application for removal, and a writ of habeas corpus cum causa was issued, by virtue of which the defendants were taken from the jail of Patrick County into the custody of the United States marshal, and they are now held in jail subject to the control of that court.

No motion has been made in the Circuit Court to remand the prosecutions to the State court, but the Commonwealth of Virginia has applied to this court for a rule to show cause why a mandamus should not issue commanding the judge of the District Court of the Western District of Virginia, the Hon. Alexander Rives, to cause to be redelivered by the marshal of said district to the jailer of Patrick County the bodies of the said Lee and Burwell Reynolds, to be dealt with according to the laws of the said Commonwealth. The rule has been granted, and Judge Rives has returned an answer setting forth substantially the facts hereinbefore stated, and averring that the indictments were removed into the Circuit Court of the United States by virtue of sect. 641 of the Revised Statutes.

If the petition filed in the State court before trial, and duly verified by the oath of the defendants, exhibited a sufficient ground for a removal of the prosecutions into the Circuit Court of the United States, they were in legal effect thus removed, and the writ of habeas corpus was properly issued. All proceedings in the State court subsequent to the removals were coram non judice and absolutely void. This, by virtue of the express declaration of sect. 641 of the Revised Statutes, which enacts that, 'upon the filing of such petition, all further

Page 317

proceedings in the State court shall cease, and shall not be resumed except as thereinafter provided.' In Gordon v. Longest (16 Pet. 97), it was ruled by this court that when an application to remove a cause (removable) is made in proper form, and no objection is made to the facts upon which it is founded, 'it is the duty of the State court to 'proceed no further in the cause,' and every step subsequently taken in the exercise of jurisdiction in the case, whether in the same court or in the Court of Appeals, is coram non judice.' To the same effect is Insurance Company v. Dunn, 19 Wall. 214.

It is, therefore, a material inquiry whether the petition of the defendants set forth such facts as made a case for removal, and consequently arrested the jurisdiction of the State court and transferred it to the Federal court. Sect. 641 of the Revised Statutes provides for a removal 'when any civil suit or prosecution is commenced in any State court, for any cause whatsoever, against any person who is denied or cannot enforce in the judicial tribunals of the State, or in the part of the State where such suit or prosecution is pending, any right secured to him by any law providing for the equal civil rights of citizens of the United States,' &c. It declares that such a case may be removed before trial or final hearing.

Was the case of Lee and Burwell Reynolds such a one? Before examining their petition for removal, it is necessary to understand clearly the scope and meaning of this act of Congress. It rests upon the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution and the legislation to enforce its provisions. That amendment declares that no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. It was in pursuance of these constitutional provisions that the civil rights statutes were enacted. Sects. 1977, 1978, Rev. Stat. They enact that all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property

Page 318

as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other. Sect. 1978 enacts that all citizens of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property. The plain object of these statutes, as of the Constitution which authorized them, was to place the colored race, in respect of civil rights, upon a level with whites. They made the rights and responsibilities, civil and criminal, of the two races exactly the same.

The provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution we have quoted all have reference to State action exclusively, and not to any action of private individuals. It is the State which is prohibited from denying to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, and consequently the statutes partially enumerating what civil rights colored men shall enjoy equally with white persons, founded as they are upon the amendment, are intended for protection against State infringement of those rights. Sect. 641 was also intended for their protection against State action, and against that alone.

It is doubtless true that a State may act through different agencies,--either by its legislative, its executive, or its judicial authorities; and the prohibitions of the amendment extend to all action of the State denying equal protection of the laws, whether it be action by one of these agencies or by another. Congress, by virtue of the fifth section of the Fourteenth Amendment, may enforce the prohibitions whenever they are disregarded by either the Legislative, the Executive, or the Judicial Department of the State. The mode of enforcement is left to its discretion. It may...

To continue reading