Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

respective districts is made co-extensive with both the Federal circuit and district courts, for reasons which will be obvious to any one who will compare the two sections, one with the other, in their practical operation. Two classes of courts are created in the Federal system for the exercise of the necessary original jurisdiction, but in the territory, as provided in the organic act, there is but one class of courts created for that purpose. Had Congress limited the jurisdiction of the territorial district courts to that exercised by the Federal district courts, then those courts could not have taken cognizance of controversies in patent cases nor of crimes or offences against the authority of the United States, where the punishment is death, and if their jurisdiction had been limited to that exercised by the circuit courts, then those courts would have had no cognizance whatever of admiralty and maritime causes, or of seizures on water where the proceeding is according to the course of the admiralty law.

Power to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the public territory is vested in Congress, and in the frequent exercise of that power the usual form for an organic act in such a case has become a very complete and well digested preparatory system of government. Two examples of courts having such jurisdiction are found in the tenth section of the judiciary act, where the Federal district courts in two districts were empowered to exercise jurisdiction in addition to what was conferred by the ninth section of the judiciary act of all other causes, except appeals and writs of error, made cognizable in a circuit court, and with authority to proceed therein in the same manner as a circuit court.

Argument to show that jurisdiction in admiralty cases is properly exercised by the Federal district courts under the ninth section of that act is quite unnecessary, as every one knows that jurisdiction in such cases has been exercised by those courts under that provision from the passage of the act to the present time, with the sanction of every Federal court organized pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of Congress. Doubt at one time was suggested whether those courts could properly exercise judicial cognizance in prize cases, inasmuch as the section does not in terms confer such jurisdiction, but the Supreme Court held that prize was a branch of the admiralty and that as such jurisdiction was vested in the district courts by the ninth section of the judiciary act. The Admiral, 3 Wall. 609, 612 ; Glass v. Sloop Betsey, 3 Dall. 16.

Prior to the act of the 3d of March, 1863, the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in prize cases, except when the same were removed here from the circuit courts, but the acts of Congress referred to provides that the decrees in such case may be appealed from the District Court directly to the Supreme Court, which leaves the circuit courts without jurisdiction in prize cases. Beyond all question admiralty jurisdiction, including jurisdiction in prize cases, was vested in the territorial district courts by the ninth section of the organic act, the explicit language of the act being that the district courts of the territory shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction in all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, as is vested in the circuit and district courts of the United States, and also of all cases arising under the laws of the territory.

Earnest effort is made in argument to show that inasmuch as a case in admiralty does not strictly arise under the Constitution and laws of the United States, that the clause of the organic act referred to does not vest jurisdiction to hear and determine such cases in the territorial district courts, for which proposition they refer to one of the decisions of this court. The American Insurance Co. v. Canter, 1 Pet. 511, 546.

Select passages of the opinion in that case, when detached from the context, may appear to support the theory of the respondents, but the actual decision of the court is explicitly and undeniably the other way.

Cotton in bales to a large amount was shipped at New Orleans for transportation to Havre de Grace, and it appears that the ship was wrecked off Florida, from which the cotton was saved and was carried to Key West, where it was sold by order of the Territorial Court to satisfy a claim for salvage amounting to seventy-six per cent of the property saved. Prior to the loss the shippers had effected insurance, and they abandoned the same to the underwriters. Part of the cotton subsequently arrived at Charleston, when the underwriters libelled the same as their property by virtue of the abandonment. Hearing was had and the District Court pronounced the proceeding of the Territorial Court at Key West a nullity, and ordered the property to be restored to the libellants, subject to a certain deduction for salvage. Both parties appealed to the Circuit Court, where the decree of the District Court was reversed and a decree entered restoring the cotton to the claimant, when the libellants appealed to the Supreme Court.

State courts have no jurisdiction in admiralty cases, nor can courts within the States exercise such jurisdiction, except such as are established in pursuance of the third article of the Constitution, but this court in that case, Mr. Chief Justice Marshall giving the opinion, decided expressly that the same limitation does not extend to the territories; that in legislating for the territories, Congress exercises the unlimited powers of the general and of a State government, which is a complete confirmation of the proposition that the construction given to the ninth section of the organic act by the Supreme Court of the territory is correct.

Confirmation of that view is also derived from other remarks made by the chief justice in that same case. We think, then, he said, that the act of the territorial legislature creating the court, by whose decree the cargo of the wrecked ship was sold, is not “inconsistent with the laws and Constitution of the United States," and that it is valid. Consequently the sale made in pursuance of it changed the property, and the decree of the Circuit Court awarding restitution of the property to the claimant ought to be affirmed.

Admiralty jurisdiction in that case had been exercised by a court created by a territorial statute, but the court whose jurisdiction is called in question in this case was created by the organic act passed by Congress to establish the territory. Conkling's Treatise (5th ed), 290.

Existing territories are all organized under organic acts containing similar provisions, and in most or all the Federal power is vested in a supreme court, district courts, probate courts, and justices of the peace; and the organic act of each descriles the jurisdiction of the district courts in substantially the same language, which is also found in the organic acts of former territories since admitted as States.

Our Constitution, in its operation, is co-extensive with our political jurisdiction, and wherever navigable waters exist within the limits of the United States, it is competent for Congress to make provision for the exercise of admiralty jurisdiction, either within or outside of the States; and in organizing territories Congress may establish tribunals for the exercise of such jurisdiction, or they may leave it to the legislature of the territory to create such tribunals. Courts of the kind, whether created by an act of Congress or a territorial statute, are not, in strictness, courts of the United States; or, in other words, the jurisdiction with which they are invested is not a part of the judicial power defined by the third article of the Constitution, but is conferred by Congress in the execution of the general power which the legislative department possesses to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the public territory and other public property.

Six days of every term of such district courts, or so much thereof as shall be necessary, are required by the act of Congress to be appropriated to the trial of causes arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, which of itself is sufficient to show that, in the view of Congress, their jurisdic. tion extends to all such matters of controversy.

Cases arising under the Constitution, as contradistinguished from those arising under the laws of the United States, are such as arise from the powers conferred, or privileges granted, or rights claimed, or protection secured, or prohibitions contained in the Constitution itself, independent of any particular statutory enactment. Examples of the kind are given by Judge Story in his commentaries, which fully illustrate what is meant by that constitutional phrase. On the other hand, it is equally plain that cases arising under the laws of the United States, are such as grow out of the legislation of Congress within the scope of their constitutional authority, whether they constitute the right, privilege, claim, protection, or defence of the party, in whole or in part, by whom they are asserted or invoked. 2 Story Const., sect. 1647.

Instances where such jurisdiction has been exercised by the territorial district courts under such acts are numerous, and they extend from the time our territorial system was organized to the present time, and the power has always been exer cised without challenge from any quarter and without the least doubt of their constitutional or legal authority. Were the meaning of the act doubtful, which cannot be admitted, the rule is universal that the contemporaneous construction of such a statute is entitled to great respect, especially where it appears that the construction has prevailed for a long period, and that a different interpretation would impair vested rights contemporanea expositio est fortissima in lege. Sedgw. Stats. (2d ed.) 213.

Maritime cases, in every form of admiralty proceeding, have been heard and determined in the territorial district courts, and by appeal in the supreme courts of the territories. Cutter v. Steamship, 1 Oreg. 101; Price v. Frankel, 1 Wash. T. 43; Meigs v. The Steamship Northerner, id. 91 ; Griffin v. Nichols, id. 375; Phelps v. City of Panama, id. 320.

Two cases, being cross-suits, were appealed to this court from decrees rendered by the Supreme Court of the territory for re-examination as admiralty appeals. Nobody questioned the jurisdiction either of the subordinate courts or of this court, and the parties were fully heard in both cases. Both decrees were reversed, and the causes remanded with directions to dismiss the libel in the cross-suit, and in the other to enter a decree in favor of the libellants for the amount of the damage. Steamship Northerner v. Steam-tug Resolute, Dec. Term, 1863, not reported.

Judges of long experience heard and decided those cases, no one of whom ever intimated any doubt that the territorial courts had such jurisdiction in admiralty causes as is vested in the Federal, district and circuit courts. For these reasons we are all of the opinion that the objection to the jurisdiction of the courts below must be overruled.

Prior to the recent act of Congress no provision was ever enacted for a trial by jury in an admiralty cause, and it is so clear that the existing provision does not afford any countenance to the complaint of the respondents, in view of the facts disclosed in the record, that it is not deemed

« AnteriorContinuar »