106 U.S. 371 (1882), Ex parte Curtis

Citation:106 U.S. 371, 1 S.Ct. 381, 27 L.Ed. 232
Party Name:Ex parte CURTIS, Petitioner.
Case Date:December 18, 1882
Court:United States Supreme Court

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106 U.S. 371 (1882)

1 S.Ct. 381, 27 L.Ed. 232

Ex parte CURTIS, Petitioner.

United States Supreme Court.

December 18, 1882

Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus.

BRADLEY, J., dissenting, as to constitutionality of the act.


[1 S.Ct. 382] Wm. Stanley, S. G. Clarke, and E. B. Smith, for petitioner.

Solicitor General Phillips, E. P. Wheeler, and F. W. Whitridge, for respondent.



In the act of August 15, 1876, making appropriations for the legislative, executive, and judicial expenses of the government, (chapter 287, 19 St. 143; 1 Supp. Rev. St. 245,) the following appears as section 6:

'Sec. 6. That all executive officers or employes of the United States not appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the senate, are prohibited from requesting, giving to, or receiving from, any other officer or employe of the government any money or property or other thing of value for political purposes; and any such officer or employe, who shall offend against the provisions of this section, shall be at once discharged from the service of the United States; and he shall also be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be fined in a sum not exceeding $500.'

Curtis, the petitioner, an employe of the United States, was indicted in the circuit court for the southern district of New York, and convicted under this act for receiving money for political purposes from other employes of the government. [*] Upon his conviction he was sentenced to pay a fine and stand committed until payment was made. Under this sentence he was taken into custody by the marshal, and on his application a writ of habeas corpus was issued by one of the justices of this court in vacation, returnable here at the present term, [1 S.Ct. 383] to inquire into the validity of his detention. The important question presented on the return to the writ so issued is whether the act under which the conviction was had is constitutional. The act is not one to prohibit all contributions of money or

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property by the designated officers and employes of the United States for political purposes. Neither does it prohibit them altogether from receiving or soliciting money or property for such purposes. It simply forbids their receiving from or giving to each other. Beyond this no restrictions are placed on any of their political privileges. That the government of the United States is one of delegated powers only, and that its authority is defined and limited by the constitution, are no longer open questions; but express authority is given congress by the constitution to make all laws necessary and proper to carry into effect the powers that are delegated. Article 1, § 8. Within the legitimate scope of this grant congress is permitted to determine for itself what is necessary and what is proper.

The act now in question is one regulating in some particulars the conduct of certain officers and employes of the United States. It rests on the same principle as that originally passed in 1789 at the first session of the first congress, which makes it unlawful for certain officers of the treasury department to engage in the business of trade or commerce, or to own a sea vessel, or to purchase public lands or other public property, or to be concerned in the purchase or disposal of the public securities of a state, or of the United States, (Rev. St. § 243;) and that passed in 1791, which makes it an offense for a clerk in the same department to carry on trade or business in the funds or debts of the states or of the United States, or in any kind of public property, (Id. § 244;) and that passed in 1812, which makes it unlawful for a judge appointed under the authority of the United States to exercise the profession of counsel or attorney, or to be engaged in the practice of the law, (Id. § 713;) and that passed in 1853, which prohibits every officer of the United States or person holding any place of trust or profit, or discharging any official function under, or in connection with any executive department of the government of the United States, or under the senate or house of representatives, from acting as an agent or attorney for the prosecution of any claim against the United States, (Id. § 5498;) and that passed in 1863, prohibiting members of congress from practicing in the court of claims, (Id. § 1058;)

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and that passed in 1867, punishing, by dismissal from service, an officer or employe of the government who requires or requests any working-man in a navy-yard to contribute or [1 S.Ct. 384] pay any money for political purposes, (Id. § 1546;) and that passed in 1868, prohibiting members of congress from being interested in contracts with the United States, (Id. § 3739;) and another, passed in 1870, which provides that no officer, clerk, or employe in the government of the United States shall solicit contributions from other officers, clerks, or employes for a gift to those in a superior official position, and that no officials or clerical superiors shall receive any gift or present as a contribution to them from persons in government employ getting a less salary than themselves, and that no officer or clerk shall make a donation as a gift or present to any official superior, (Id. § 1784.) Many others of a kindred character might be referred to, but these are enough to show what has been the practice in the legislative department of the government from its organization, and, so far as we know, this is the first time the constitutionality of such legislation has ever been presented for judicial determination.

The evident purpose of congress in all this class of enactments has been to promote efficiency and integrity in the discharge of official duties, and to maintain proper discipline in the public service. Clearly such a purpose is within the just scope of legislative power, and it is not easy to see why the act now under consideration does not come fairly within the legitimate means to such an end. It is true, as is claimed by the counsel for the petitioner, political assessments upon office-holders are not prohibited. The managers of political campaigns, not in the employ of the United States, are just as free now to call on those in office for money to be used for political purposes as ever they were, and those in office can contribute as liberally as they please, provided their payments are not made to any of the prohibited officers or employes. What we are now considering is not...

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