Palmore v. United States 8212 11

Decision Date24 April 1973
Docket NumberNo. 72,72
Citation411 U.S. 389,93 S.Ct. 1670,36 L.Ed.2d 342
PartiesRoosevelt F. PALMORE, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES. —11
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Palmore was convicted of a felony in violation of the District of Columbia Code by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, rejecting Palmore's contention that he was entitled to be tried by an Art. III judge with lifetime tenure and salary protection, affirmed, concluding that under the plenary power to legislate for the District of Columbia conferred by Art. I, § 8, cl. 17, of the Constitution, Congress had 'constitutional power to proscribe certain criminal conduct only in the District and to select the appropriate court, whether it is created by virtue of article III or article I, to hear and determine . . . particular criminal cases within the District.' Palmore seeks to invoke this Court's appellate jurisdiction on the basis of 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2), which provides for an appeal to this Court from a final judgment upholding the validity of 'a statute of any state' against a claim that it is repugnant to the Constitution. Held:

1. The District of Columbia Code is not a state statute for purposes of § 1257(2), and the lower court's upholding of the federal statute is therefore not reviewable by appeal but by certiorari. Pp. 394—397.

2. Not every judicial proceeding that implicates a charge, claim, or defense based on an Act of Congress or a law made under its authority must be presided over by an Art. III judge. Pp. 397 410.

(a) The jurisdictional grant respecting 'such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish' requires neither that only Art. III courts hear and decide cases within the judicial power of the United States nor that each inferior court be invested with all the jurisdiction flowing from Art. III, and federal criminal laws have been enforced by state, territorial, and military courts and judges who did not enjoy the Art. III protections. Pp. 397—404.

(b) The strictly local court system consisting of the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia was created by the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970 pursuant to Congress' plenary Art. I power to legislate for the District of Columbia, and was intended to relieve the Art. III courts of the burdens of local civil and criminal litigation. O'Donoghue v. United States, 289 U.S. 516, 53 S.Ct. 740, 77 L.Ed. 1356, distinguished. Pp. 405—407.

Appeal dismissed and certiorari granted in part; 290 A.2d 573, affirmed.

Frank F. Flegal, Washington, D.C., for appellant.

Sol. Gen. Erwin N. Griswold, for appellee.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Aside from an initial question of our appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2), this case requires us to decide whether a defendant charged with a felony under the District of Columbia Code may be tried by a judge who does not have protection with respect to tenure and salary under Art. III of the Constitution. We hold that under its Art. I, § 8, cl. 17, power to legislate for the District of Columbia, Congress may provide for trying local criminal cases before judges who, in accordance with the District of Columbia Code, are not accorded life tenure and protection against reduction in salary. In this respect, the position of the District of Columbia defendant is similar to that of the citizen of any of the 50 States when charged with violation of a state criminal law: Neither has a federal constitutional right to be tried before judges with tenure and salary guarantees.

I

The facts are uncomplicated. In January 1971, two officers of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department observed a moving automobile with license tags suggesting that it was a rented vehicle. Although no traffic or other violation was then indicated, the officer stopped the vehicle for a spot-check of the driver's license and carrental agreement. Palmore, the driver of the vehicle, produced a rental agreement from the glove compartment of the car and explained why the car appeared to be, but was not, overdue. During this time, one of the officers observed the hammer mechanism of a gun protruding from under the armrest in the front seat of the vehicle. Palmore was arrested and later charged with the felony of carrying an unregistered pistol in the District of Columbia after having been convicted of a felony, in violation of the District of Columbia Code, § 22—3204 (1967).1 He was tried and found guilty in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Under Title I of the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970, 84 Stat. 473 (Reorganization Act),2 the judges of the Superior Court are appointed by the President and serve for terms of 15 years. D.C.Code Ann. §§ 11—1501(a), 11—1502 (Supp. V, 1972).3 Palmore moved to dismiss the indictment against him, urging that only a court 'ordain(ed) and established(ed)' in accordance with Art. III of the United States Constitution could constitutionally try him for a felony prosecution under the District of Columbia Code. He also moved to suppress the pistol as the fruit of an illegal search and seizure. The motions were denied in the Superior Court, and Palmore was convicted.

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed concluding that under the plenary power to legislate for the District of Columbia, conferred by Art. I, § 8, cl. 17, of the Constitution, Congress had 'constitutional power to proscribe certain criminal conduct only in the District and to select the appropriate court, whether it is created by virtue of article III or article I, to hear and determine these particular criminal cases within the District.' 290 A.2d 573, 576—577 (1972). Palmore filed a notice of appeal with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and his jurisdictional statement here, purporting to perfect an appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2). We postponed further consideration of our jurisdiction to review this case by way of appeal to the hearing on the merits. 409 U.S. 840, 93 S.Ct. 66, 34 L.Ed.2d 79 (1972).

II

Title 28 U.S.C. § 12574 specifies the circumstances under which the final judgments of the highest court of a State may be reviewed in this Court by way of appeal or writ of certiorari. As amended in 1970 by § 172(a)(1) of the Reorganization Act, 84 Stat. 590, the term 'highest court of a State' as used in § 1257 includes the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Appeal lies from such courts only where a statute of the United States is struck down, 28 U.S.C. § 1257(1), or where a statute of a State is sustained against federal constitutional attack, id., § 1257(2). Because the statute at issue was upheld in this case, an appeal to this Court from that judgment lies only if the statute was a 'statute of any state' within the meaning of § 1257(2). Palmore insists that it is, but we cannot agree.

The 1970 amendment to § 1257 plainly provided that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals should be treated as the 'highest court of a State,' but nowhere in § 1257, or elsewhere, has Congress provided that the words 'statute of any state,' as used in § 1257(2), are to include the provisions of the District of Columbia Code. A reference to 'state statutes' would ordinarily not include provisions of the District of Columbia Code, which was enacted, not by a state legislature, but by Congress, and which applies only within the boundaries of the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia is constitutionally distinct from the States, Hepburn & Dundas v. Ellzey, 2 Cranch 445, 2 L.Ed. 332 (1805); cf. National Mutual Ins. Co. of Dist. of Col. v. Tidewater Transfer Co., 337 U.S. 582, 69 S.Ct. 1173, 93 L.Ed. 1556 (1949). Nor does it follow from the decision to treat the District of Columbia Court of Appeals as a state court that the District Code was to be considered a state statute for the purposes of § 1257. We are entitled to assume that in amending § 1257, Congress legislated with care, and that had Congress intended to equate the District Code and state statutes for the purposes of § 1257, it would have said so expressly, and not left the matter to mere implication.5 Jurisdictional statutes are to be construed 'with precision and with fidelity to the terms by which Congress has expressed its wishes,' Cheng Fan Kwok v. INS, 392 U.S. 206, 212, 88 S.Ct. 1970, 1974, 20 L.Ed.2d 1037 (1968); and we are particularly prone to accord 'strict construction of statutes authorizing appeals' to this Court. Fornaris v. Ridge Tool Co., 400 U.S. 41, 42 n. 1, 91 S.Ct. 156, 157, 27 L.Ed.2d 174 (1970). We will not, therefore, hold that Congress intended to treat the District of Columbia Code as a state statute for the purposes of § 1257(2). Cf. Farnsworth v. Territory of Montana, 129 U.S. 104, 112—114, 9 S.Ct. 253, 254 255, 32 L.Ed. 616 (1889).

Palmore relies on Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922), where an enactment of the territorial legislature of Puerto Rico was held to be a statute of a State within the meaning of the then-applicable statutory provisions governing appeals to this Court. That result has been codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1258; but, even so, the Balzac rationale was severely undermined in Fornaris, where we held that a statute passed by the legislature of Puerto Rico is not 'a State statute' within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1254(2), and that it should not be treated as such in the absence of more definitive guidance from Congress.

We conclude that we do not have jurisdiction of the appeal filed in this case. Palmore presents federal constitutional issues, however, that are reviewable by writ of certiorari under § 1257(3); and treating the jurisdictional statement as a petition for writ of certiorari, cf. 28 U.S.C. § 2103, we grant the petition limited to the question of whether Palmore was entitled to be tried...

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