Levin v. United States

Decision Date26 February 1904
Docket Number1,969.
PartiesLEVIN v. UNITED STATES.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Syllabus by the Court

Under the congressional authority to establish a uniform rule of naturalization, granted by section 8 of article 1 of the Constitution, the Congress may lawfully empower courts of the states to admit qualified aliens to citizenship, and the courts of the states may legally exercise this power without legislative authority or permission from the states which created them.

The contemporaneous construction of a provision of the Constitution by those who framed it, the concurrence of statesmen, legislators, and judges in that construction, and the acquiescence and uninterrupted practice of all the departments of the government in the same interpretation for more than 100 years, conclusively determine the meaning and effect of the provision, and place it beyond the realm of doubt or debate.

The Judicial power granted by section 1, art. 3, of the Constitution, is the power to try the 10 classes of cases specified in section 2 of that article. Chisholm v Georgia, 2 Dall. 475, 1 L.Ed. 440.

These sections do not prohibit the Congress from vesting judicial power in other cases in courts or magistrates of the states or in executive officers, where the exercise of such power by them is a necessary or appropriate means by which to use the powers granted by the Constitution to the legislative department or to the executive department of the government.

Courts having common-law jurisdiction, within the meaning of that term in section 2165, Rev. St. (U.S. Comp. St. 1901, p 1329), are those which have the power to punish offenses, to enforce rights, or to redress wrongs recognized by the common law, or courts which are governed by the principles, rules and usages of the common law in the determination of some of the causes of which they have jurisdiction. The term is used to distinguish courts which have some common-law jurisdiction from those which have no jurisdiction save in equity, in admiralty, or in matters not involving offenses or rights under the common law.

It is not indispensable that a court should have all common-law jurisdiction to qualify it to naturalize aliens under this section. It is sufficient that it has some.

The St Louis Court of Appeals has common-law jurisdiction, and is empowered to admit qualified aliens to citizenship, because it has common-law jurisdiction to issue, hear, and determine writs of habeas corpus, quo warranto, mandamus, and certiorari, and in the determination of actions at law it is generally governed by the principles, rules, and usages of the common law.

Walter D. Coles, for plaintiff in error.

Bert. D. Nortoni (David P. Dyer and Horace L. Dyer, on the brief), for defendant in error.

Before SANBORN, THAYER, and HOOK, Circuit Judges.

SANBORN Circuit Judge.

Nathan Levin was indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment for the term of five years by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, for aiding, abetting, counseling, advising, and procuring aliens who were not entitled to naturalization to obtain certificates of citizenship from the St. Louis Court of Appeals by means of fraud and false statements, in violation of sections 5425 and 5427 of the Revised Statutes (U.S. Comp. St. 1901, pp. 3669,3670). He challenges the judgment against him upon the ground that these acts constituted no offense, because the St. Louis Court of Appeals had no jurisdiction to naturalize qualified aliens.

By section 2165 of the Revised Statutes (U.S. Comp. St. 1901, p. 1329), 'a court of record of any of the states having common law jurisdiction and a seal and clerk' is expressly authorized by the Congress to naturalize qualified aliens, and to issue to them certificates of citizenship. The Constitution of the United States provides that the Congress shall have power 'to establish a uniform rule of naturalization * * * to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States or in any department or officer thereof' (article 1, Sec. 8), and that 'this Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof * * * shall be the supreme law of the land and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary, notwithstanding' (article 6). The constitutional grant of power to do an act or to attain an end is an implied grant of plenary authority to select and use the appropriate means to accomplish the purpose contemplated. McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 413, 422, 4 L.Ed. 579; Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 16 Pet. 536, 618, 619, 10 L.Ed. 1060. A thoughtful reading of these clauses of the Constitution, in the light of the familiar canon of construction to which reference has been made, suggests no lack of authority in the legislative department of the nation to grant, or in the courts of the states to accept and to exercise, the power to naturalize aliens bestowed upon them by the act of Congress.

Counsel for the plaintiff in error, however, contends with much cogency and ingenuity that a court of a state has no jurisdiction to admit aliens to citizenship (1) because Congress had no power under the Constitution to grant this authority to such a court; and (2) because, if it had that power, a court of common-law jurisdiction created by a state has no authority to accept or to exercise this power in the absence of the legislative permission so to do from the state which established it. His argument in support of his first position runs in this way: The Constitution 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' (article 3, Sec. 1), and that 'the judicial power shall extend to all cases' (specified in article 3, Sec. 2. Congress has no authority to grant any portion of this judicial power of the nation to any other courts than those created under these sections of the Constitution. Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 1 Wheat. 304, 328-330, 4 L.Ed. 97; Houston v. Moore, 5 Wheat. 1, 27, 5 L.Ed. 19. The admission of aliens to citizenship is a judicial function. It is the exercise of judicial power. Spratt v. Spratt, 4 Pet. 393, 407, 7 L.Ed. 171. Therefore the Congress has no power to grant to a court of a state the judicial power to admit aliens to citizenship, and section 2165 and all other acts of Congress which by their terms bestowed this authority upon state courts are unconstitutional and void. In support of his second proposition he argues that a court of a state derives all its powers from the political entity which creates it; that, while such a court may perform judicial functions permitted by national legislation in cases in which the general power to discharge these functions is granted or allowed to it by the legislation of the state which rates it, no new or additional authority can be conferred upon it by the laws of the nation, and none can be exercised by it unless it is granted by the state laws which create the court, and vest and define its jurisdiction, and, inasmuch as the legislation of the state of Missouri has never granted to any court of that state the power or the permission to naturalize aliens in accordance with the laws of the United States, none of the courts of that state may lawfully exercise this authority. To sustain this argument he cites the decisions of the Supreme Court to the effect that where jurisdiction may be conferred upon the national courts by Congress, and that jurisdiction is not made exclusive, the state courts may exercise it if by the Constitution and laws of their state they are competent to take it (Houston v. Moore, 5 Wheat. 1, 27, 5 L.Ed. 19; Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130, 136, 23 L.Ed.833); the cases in which state courts have declined to sustain actions for fines, penalties, or forfeitures imposed by acts of Congress for the violation of national legislation (U.S. v. Lathrop, 17 Johns. 4, 8-10; Ely v. Peck, 7 Conn. 239,244); and the case of Ex parte Knowles, 5 Cal. 300, in which the Supreme Court of that state held that, while Congress had no power to confer jurisdiction upon the courts of a state to admit aliens to citizenship, yet such courts might exercise that power in cases where its existence was recognized by the legislation of the state which established it.

These propositions and arguments of the counsel for the plaintiff in error are plausible and cogent. They might well have challenged debate-- possibly they might have changed the course of legislation and of action-- if they had been presented to the Supreme Court 100 years ago. At this late day, however, after the courts of states have for more than a century, with the uniform acquiescence and consent of all the departments of the national government and of the state governments, exercised this authority to naturalize aliens granted to them by the acts of Congress, there is one answer which is equally fatal to both the propositions which counsel for the plaintiff in error here presents.

It is that the contemporaneous interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution relative to this subject by those who framed it, the concurrence of statesmen, legislators, and judges in that construction the acquiescence and uninterrupted practice of all the departments of the government in the same interpretation for more than 100 years, conclusively determine their meaning and effect, and place them beyond the realm of doubt or question. Stuart v. Laird, 1 Cranch, 298,...

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24 cases
  • Williams v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • 29 Mayo 1933
    ...during this long period of time, and their authority to do so must be regarded as conclusively established. Levin v. United States (C.C.A.) 128 F. 826, 830, 831. In that case, Judge Sanborn, in a very carefully drawn opinion, pointed out that Congress cannot vest any portion of the judicial......
  • Brewer v. Hoxie School District No. 46
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    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • 25 Octubre 1956
    ...members may be protected by a federal injunction in their efforts to discharge their duty under the Fourteenth Amendment. In Levin v. U. S., 8 Cir., 128 F. 826, the appellant from a conviction in federal court had aided aliens not entitled to naturalization to obtain certificates of citizen......
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    • 15 Julio 1919
    ...Winona & St. P. R. Co., 67 F. 948, 15 C. C. A. 96; United States v. Archibald A. Ritchie, 17 How. 525, 15 L.Ed. 236; Levin v. United States, 128 F. 826, 63 C. C. A. 476; American Ins. Co. v. 356 Bales of Cotton, 1 Pet. 511, 7 242; Clinton v. Englebrecht, 13 Wall. 434-447, 20 L.Ed. 659; McAl......
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    • 15 Julio 1919
    ...of a power to accomplish an object is a grant of the authority to select and use the appropriate means to attain it. Levin v. United States, 128 F. 826, 63 C.C.A. 476. 2. Same--Indian Affairs. The government of the Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes and the management of their property an......
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