Craig v. Hecht, 82

Decision Date19 November 1923
Docket NumberNo. 82,82
Citation263 U.S. 255,44 S.Ct. 103,68 L.Ed. 293
PartiesCRAIG v. HECHT, U. S. Marshal
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. E. L. Mooney and John P. O'Brien, both of New York City, for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 255-262 intentionally omitted] Mr. Solicitor General Beck, of Washington, D. C., for respondent.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 262-268 intentionally omitted]

Page 268

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The opinions below are reported in United States v. Craig (D. C.) 266 Fed. 230; Ex parte Craig (D. C.) 274 Fed. 177; United States v. Craig (D. C.) 279 Fed. 900; Ex parte Craig %(c. c. a.) 282 f/ed. 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 section 268, Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 1245).

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 60 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 Honrable 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—ss.:

'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 Martin 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:

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 coreceiver. 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.' 274 Fed. 187.

'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, in the 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

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 of 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.' 282 Fed. 151.

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 authorize 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 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.'

Comp. St. §§ 1279, 1280.

The Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 73) 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 April 10, 1869, 16 Stat. 44, created the office

Page 272

of Circuit Judge:

'For each of the nine existing judicial circuits there shall be appointed a Circuit Judge, who shall reside in his circuit, and shall possess the same power and jurisdiction therein as the justice of the Supreme Court allotted to the circuit.' Section 2.

This provision became part of section 607, Rev. Stats:

'For each circuit there shall be appointed a Circuit Judge, who shall have the same power and jurisdiction therein as the justice of the Supreme Court allotted to the circuit. * * * Every Circuit Judge shall reside within his circuit.'

The Act of March 3, 1911 (Judicial Code, §§ 289, 291, 297 [Comp. St. §§ 1266, 1268, 1274]), abolished Circuit Courts, conferred their duties, and powers upon the District Courts, and specifically repealed section 607, Rev. Stats. It also repealed 'all acts and parts of acts authorizing the appointment of United States Circuit or District Judges * * * enacted prior to February 1, 1911.' Section 118, Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 1109), provides:

'There shall be in the second, seventh, and eighth circuits, respectively, four Circuit Judges; in the fourth circuit, two Circuit Judges; and in each of the other circuits, three Circuit Judges, to be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. * * * The Circuit Judges in each circuit shall be judges of the Circuit Court of Appeals in that circuit, and it shall be the duty of each Circuit Judge in each circuit to sit as one of the judges of the Circuit Court of Appeals in that circuit from time to time according to law: Provided, that nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent any Circuit Judge holding District Court or serving in the Commerce Court, or otherwise, as provided for and authorized in other sections of this act.'

Sections 751 and 752, Rev. Stats. give authority to grant writs of habeas corpus only to judges and justices of the courts therein specified—Supreme, Circuit and District. The Judicial Code abolished the Circuit Courts. Only justices of the Supreme Court and judges of District Courts remain within the ambit of the statute.

Page 273

Section 18, Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 985):

'Whenever in the judgment of the senior Circuit Judge of the circuit in which the district lies, or of the Circuit Justice assigned to such circuit, or of the Chief Justice, the public interest shall require, the said judge, or Associate Justice, or Chief Justice, shall designate and appoint any Circuit Judge of the circuit to hold said District Court.'

A duly executed writing designated and appointed Judge Manton —

'to hold a session of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York for the trial of causes and the hearing and disposition of such ex parte and other business as may come before him during the period beginning February 21, 1921, and ending March 5, 1921.'

Petitioner's counsel took care to show this assignment, and, responding to the motion that the judge should proceed as a District Court in hearing the application for petitioner's discharge, he stated:

'Our position is, your honor, that the writ is issued by you as a Circuit Judge. In addition thereto, you were designated...

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