Tennessee v. Davis

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTRONG
Citation100 U.S. 257,25 L.Ed. 648
PartiesTENNESSEE v. DAVIS
Decision Date01 October 1879

100 U.S. 257
100 U.S. 257
25 L.Ed. 648
TENNESSEE
v.
DAVIS.
October Term, 1879

Page 258

CERTIFICATE of division in opinion between the judges of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Middle District of Tennessee.

James M. Davis, was, in the Circuit Court for Grundy County, in the State of Tennessee, indicted for murder. On the twenty-ninth day of August, 1878, before the trial of the indictment, he presented to the Circuit Court of the United States for the proper district the following petition, praying for a removal of the case into that court, and for a certiorari:——-

Page 259

'Your petitioner, James M. Davis, would most respectfully show to the court that on the twenty-first day of May, 1878, at the May Term of the Circuit Court of Grundy County, Tennessee, the grand jurors for the State of Tennessee, at the instance of E. M. Haynes, as prosecutor, indicted your petitioner for wilfully, premeditatedly, deliberately, and of his malice aforethought killing one J. B. Haynes, which indictment and criminal prosecution so instituted is still pending against your petitioner in the Circuit Court of Grundy County, within the middle district of Tennessee.

'And he further shows that no murder was committed; but, on the other hand, the killing was committed in his own necessary self-defence, to save his own life; that at the time the alleged act for which he was indicted was committed he was, and still is, an officer of the United States, to wit, a deputy collector of internal revenue, and the act for which he was indicted was performed in his own necessary self-defence, while engaged in the discharge of the duties of his office as deputy collector of internal revenue; and he was acting by and under the authority of the internal-revenue laws of the United States, and was done under and by right of his office, to wit, as deputy collector of internal revenue. It is his duty to seize illicit distilleries and the apparatus that is being used for the illicit and unlawful distillation of spirits, and while so attempting to enforce the revenue laws of the United States, as deputy collector aforesaid, he was assaulted and fired upon by a number ov armed men, and in defence of his life returned the fire.

In view of these facts, your petitioner prays that said cause may be removed from the Circuit Court of Grundy County to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Middle District of Tennessee for trial, and that a certiorari issue. And as in duty bound he will ever pray.

'JAMES A. WARDER, Attorney.

'DISTRICT OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE,

'County of Davidson:

'James M. Davis, being duly sworn, deposes and says that he is the petitioner named in said petition; that he has heard the same read, and knows the contents thereof, and that the same is true of his own knowledge.

'JAMES M. DAVIS.

'Subscribed and sworn to before me this Aug. 13, 1878.

'J. W. CAMPBELL,

'U. S. Com'r for Middle Tenn.'-

Page 260

The record having been returned, in compliance with the writ, a motion was made to remand the case to the State court; and, on the hearing of the motion, the judges were divided in opinion upon the following questions, which are certified here:——

First, whether an indictment of a revenue officer (of the United States) for murder, found in a State court, under the facts alleged in the petition for removal in this case, is removable to the Circuit Court of the United States, under sect. 643 of the Revised Statutes.

Second, whether, if removable from the State court, there is any mode and manner of procedure in the trial prescribed by the act of Congress.

Third, Whether, if not, a trial of the guilt or innocence of the defendant can be had in the United States Circuit Court.

Mr. Benjamin J. Lea, Attorney-General of Tennessee, and Mr. James G. Field for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. Attorney-General Devens and Mr. Assistant Attorney-General Smith, contra.

MR. JUSTICE STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.

The first of the questions certified is one of great importance, bringing as it does into consideration the relation of the general government to the government of the States, and bringing also into view not merely the construction of an act of Congress, but its constitutionality. That in this case the defendant's petition for removal of the cause was in the form prescribed by the act of Congress admits of no doubt. It represented that he had been indicted for murder in the Circuit Court of Grundy County, and that the indictment and criminal prosecution were still pending. It represented further, that no murder was committed, but that, on the other hand, the killing was committed in the petitioner's own necessary self-defence, to save his own life; that at the time when the alleged act for which he was indicted was committed he was, and still is, an officer of the United States, to wit, a deputy collector of internal revenue, and that the act for which he was indicted was performed in his own necessary self-defence while engaged in the discharge of his duties as deputy collector; that he was

Page 261

acting by and under the authority of the internal-revenue laws of the United States; that what he did was done under and by right of his office, to wit, as deputy collector of internal revenue; that it was his duty to seize illicit distilleries and the apparatus that is used for the illicit and unlawful distillation of spirits; and that while so attempting to enforce the revenue laws of the United States, as deputy collector as aforesaid, he was assaulted and fired upon by a number of armed men, and that in defence of his life he returned the fire. The petition was verified by oath, and the certificate required by the act of Congress to be given by the petitioner's legal counsel was appended thereto. There is, therefore, no room for reasonable doubt that a case was made for the removal of the indictment into the Circuit Court of the United States, if sect. 643 of the Revised Statutes embraces criminal prosecutions in a State court, and makes them removable, and if that act of Congress was not unauthorized by the Constitution. The language of the statute (so far as it is necessary at present to refer to it) is as follows: 'When any civil suit or criminal prosecution is commenced in any court of a State against any officer appointed under, or acting by authority of, any revenue law of the United States, now or hereafter enacted, or against any person acting by or under authority of any such officer, on account of any act done under color of his office or of any such law, or on account of any right, title, or authority claimed by such officer or other person under any such law,' the case may be removed into the Federal court. Now, certainly the petition for the removal represented that the act for which the defendant was indicted was done not merely under color of his office as a revenue collector, or under color of the revenue laws, not merely while he was engaged in performing his duties as a revenue officer, but that it was done under and by right of his office, and while he was resisted by an armed force in his attempts to discharge his official duty. This is more than a claim of right and authority under the law of the United States for the act for which he has been indicted. It is a positive assertion of the existence of such authority. But the act of Congress authorizes the removal of any cause, when the acts of the defendant complained of were done, or claimed to have

Page 262

been done, in the discharge of his duty as a Federal officer. It makes such a claim a basis for the assumption of Federal jurisdiction of the case, and for retaining it, at least until the claim proves unfounded.

That the act of Congress does provide for the removal of criminal prosecutions for offences against the State laws, when there arises in them the claim of the Federal right or authority, is too plain to admit of denial. Such is its positive language, and it is not to be argued away by presenting the supposed incongruity of administering State criminal laws by other courts than those established by the State. It has been strenuously urged that murder within a State is not made a crime by any act of Congress, and that it is an offence against the peace and dignity of the State alone. Hence it is inferred that its trial and punishment can be conducted only in State tribunals, and it is argued that the act of Congress cannot mean what it says, but that it must intend only such prosecutions in State courts as are for offences against the United States,—offences against the revenue laws. But there can be no criminal prosecution initiated in any State court for that which is merely an offence against the general government. If, therefore, the statute is to be allowed any meaning, when it speaks of criminal prosecutions in State courts, it must intend those that are instituted for alleged violations of State laws, in which defences are set up or claimed under United States laws or authority.

We come, then, to the inquiry, most discussed during the argument, whether sect. 643 is a constitutional exercise of the power vested in Congress. Has the Constitution conferred upon Congress the power to authorize the removal, from a State court to a Federal court, of an indictment against a revenue officer for an alleged crime against the State, and to order its removal before trial, when it appears that a Federal question or a claim to a Federal right is raised in the case, and must be decided therein? A more important question can hardly be imagined. Upon its answer may depend the possibility of the general government's preserving its own existence. As was said in Martin v. Hunter (1 Wheat. 363), 'the general government must cease to exist whenever it loses the

Page 263

power of protecting itself in the exercise of its constitutional powers.' It can act only through its officers and agents, and...

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325 practice notes
  • Brewer v. Hoxie School District No. 46, No. 15510.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • October 25, 1956
    ...right in the person upon whom the duty is imposed to be free from direct interference with its performance. In Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257, 264, 25 L.Ed. 648 in which trial of a federal officer for an act performed in the line of duty was held removable from a state to a federal court,......
  • Gamble v. United States, No. 17-646
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2019
    ..., 330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967 (1947).24 Claflin v. Houseman , 93 U.S. 130, 23 L.Ed. 833 (1876).25 See Tennessee v. Davis , 100 U.S. 257, 25 L.Ed. 648 (1880).26 Testa , 330 U.S. at 390, 67 S.Ct. 810. The Court tries to make the most of McCulloch , pointing out that Chief Justice......
  • City Of St. Louis v. Velsicol Chem. Corp., Case No. 07-13683-BC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • March 25, 2010
    ...hostile States from ‘paralyzing’ the Federal Government and its initiatives.” Id. at 149, 127 S.Ct. 2301 (citing Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257, 263, 25 L.Ed. 648 (1880)). In addition, “[s]tate-court proceedings may reflect ‘local prejudice’ against unpopular federal laws or federal offic......
  • Kuwait Pearls Catering Co. v. Kellogg Brown & Root Servs., Inc., Civ. A. H-15-0754
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • March 31, 2016
    ...2014 WL 2203876 (May 27, 2015). As the Supreme Court opined in Willingham v. Morgan, 395 U.S. 402, 406 (1969), quoting Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257, 263 (1880), the federal government'can only act through its officers and agents, and they must act within the States. If, when thus acting......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
324 cases
  • Brewer v. Hoxie School District No. 46, No. 15510.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • October 25, 1956
    ...right in the person upon whom the duty is imposed to be free from direct interference with its performance. In Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257, 264, 25 L.Ed. 648 in which trial of a federal officer for an act performed in the line of duty was held removable from a state to a federal court,......
  • Gamble v. United States, No. 17-646
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2019
    ..., 330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967 (1947).24 Claflin v. Houseman , 93 U.S. 130, 23 L.Ed. 833 (1876).25 See Tennessee v. Davis , 100 U.S. 257, 25 L.Ed. 648 (1880).26 Testa , 330 U.S. at 390, 67 S.Ct. 810. The Court tries to make the most of McCulloch , pointing out that Chief Justice......
  • City Of St. Louis v. Velsicol Chem. Corp., Case No. 07-13683-BC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • March 25, 2010
    ...hostile States from ‘paralyzing’ the Federal Government and its initiatives.” Id. at 149, 127 S.Ct. 2301 (citing Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257, 263, 25 L.Ed. 648 (1880)). In addition, “[s]tate-court proceedings may reflect ‘local prejudice’ against unpopular federal laws or federal offic......
  • Kuwait Pearls Catering Co. v. Kellogg Brown & Root Servs., Inc., Civ. A. H-15-0754
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • March 31, 2016
    ...2014 WL 2203876 (May 27, 2015). As the Supreme Court opined in Willingham v. Morgan, 395 U.S. 402, 406 (1969), quoting Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257, 263 (1880), the federal government'can only act through its officers and agents, and they must act within the States. If, when thus acting......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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