269 U.S. 13 (1925), 125, United States ex Rel. Kennedy v. Tyler

Docket Nº:No. 125
Citation:269 U.S. 13, 46 S.Ct. 1, 70 L.Ed. 138
Party Name:United States ex Rel. Kennedy v. Tyler
Case Date:October 12, 1925
Court:United States Supreme Court

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269 U.S. 13 (1925)

46 S.Ct. 1, 70 L.Ed. 138

United States ex Rel. Kennedy



No. 125

United States Supreme Court

Oct. 12, 1925

Argued April 21, 22, 1925




1. The power of a district court to inquire by habeas corpus into the cause of the detention of a person held in custody by the authority of a state court in alleged violation of the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States is to be exerted in the exercise of a sound discretion, and the due and orderly administration of justice in a state court is not to be thus interfered with save in rare cases where exceptional circumstances of peculiar urgency are shown to exist. P. 17.

2. Lack of ability to bear the expense of proceedings for relators' protection in the state courts or to furnish bonds required on appeal does not alter this rule. P. 19.

3. Persons who were imprisoned by a New York court for contempt in disobeying its order prohibiting further proceedings in the Peacemakers' Court of the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation claimed that the land in question was outside the sovereignty of the state and the jurisdiction of its courts, and that their arrest and detention violated their rights as Seneca Indians, under treaties with the Seneca Nation, and their rights under the federal Constitution. Held, inasmuch as the state courts were proceeding under state laws passed in response to a request of the Seneca Nation and which apparently for the greater part of a century had not been challenged as impeding the authority of the federal government, that it was peculiarly appropriate that the questions raised should be dealt with by those courts in the first instance, subject to review by this Court, and that a writ of habeas corpus, issued by the district court, should have been discharged upon that ground, rather than upon the merits.

294 F. 111 affirmed.

Appeal from a judgment of the district court discharging upon the merits a writ of habeas corpus issuance of which was procured by Walter S. Kennedy on behalf of his son, Warren Kennedy and Sylvester J. Pierce, to

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test the validity of their arrest and imprisonment for contempt of a prohibitory order of the Supreme Court of New York. The United States and Alice Estella Spring intervened in the district court and joined in the appeal. William F. Waldow, then Sheriff of Erie County, was named defendant; upon the expiration of his term, Frank M. Tyler, his successor, was substituted.

SUTHERLAND, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

[46 S.Ct. 2] Nathaniel C. Patterson, a duly enrolled Seneca Indian residing on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in the State of New York, died testate leaving a widow (a white woman), a daughter, and three sons. The widow was named in the will as sole executrix. The will was regularly admitted to probate by the surrogate of Erie County, New York, and letters of administration granted. The widow thereupon presented her letters of administration together with the will to the peacemakers' court of the Cattaraugus Reservation, where the deceased had left real property, asking that the probate of the will be recognized or the

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will itself be admitted there to probate. The peacemakers' court, holding that the widow and her children were not members of the Seneca Nation, and therefore, under tribal custom, not entitled to inherit lands in the reservation, declined to grant either prayer, but appointed Pierce administrator. Pierce brought an action in the peacemakers' court to eject the widow from the property and to set aside the probate of the will by the surrogate of Erie County. The widow appeared specially and objected to the jurisdiction of the peacemakers' court. That court overruled the objection and entered judgment against her for possession of the property. Upon the application of the widow, the supreme court of the state issued its final order prohibiting Pierce, administrator, and the members of the peacemakers' court from taking any further steps in the matter. In violation of that order, Pierce caused a mandate of the peacemakers' court to be issued and delivered to Warren Kennedy, marshal of the reservation, under which the latter took possession of the property. Thereupon contempt proceedings were had before the state supreme court, as a result of which Pierce and Kennedy were adjudged guilty of a contempt of that court in having willfully disobeyed its prohibition order and sentenced to pay a fine in the sum of $184.50, with imprisonment as the alternative. Upon their failure to...

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