COLLET v. COLLET
2 U.S. 294 (1792)

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U.S. Supreme Court

COLLET v. COLLET, 2 U.S. 294 (1792)

2 U.S. 294 (F.Cas.) 2 Dall. 294

Collet
v.
Collet

Circuit Court, Pennsylvania District

April Term, 1792

This was a bill in Equity, which stated the complainant to be a subject of his Britannic Majesty, and the Respondent to be a citizen of Pennsylvania. The Respondent in his plea averred, that the complainant was a citizen of Pennsylvania; and this plea, if true, deprived the Court of its jurisdiction, as the Federal Courts cannot (unless in some particularly specified cases) take cognizance of controversies between citizens of the same State. The question was argued on the 21st of April by Randolph and Serjeant, in support of the bill, and by M. Levy in support of the exception to the jurisdiction. It then appeared, that the complainant was born in the Isle of Man, part of the British dominions; but it was certified, by the Mayor of Philadelphia, that on the 30th of April 1790, he had taken the oath of allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania, agreeably to an act of the General Assembly, passed the 13th of March 1789. 2 Vol. Dall. Edit. p. 677. founded on the 42 section of the old Constitution. 1 Vol. p. 60. in App. It was, likewise, shewn by a certificate from the Collector of the Customs of the port of Philadelphia, that on the 5th of November 1790, he was commander of the Pigou, an American ship; and the 6th section of the act of Congress, for registering and clearing vessels (Ch. 11, passed 1 September 1789.) provides, that no registry shall be made of any American ship, until it is sworn (among other things) that 'the present master is a citizen of the United States.'

Page 2 U.S. 294, 295

In support of the plea, it was contended, that the power given to the United States, was meant as a guard against the narrow regulations that might, at any future period, be adopted by the individual States, to check the admission of aliens; and not as a security against the too easy extension of the rights of citizenship. This object would, therefore, be most effectually attained, by leaving the authority of the individual States unimpaired; and as there is nothing exclusive in the nature of the power, so neither is their any thing exclusive in the manner of vesting it in the Federal Government. Though 'Congress shall have power to establish an uniform rule of naturalization,' Art. 1. s. 8. it does not necessarily follow, that each State of the confederacy may not, likewise, exercise the power of adopting aliens upon its own terms. That an opinion prevails here, in favor of the State jurisdiction, must be inferred from the various laws, which Pennsylvania, even subsequent to the naturalization act of Congress, ( passed 26th of March 1790) has enacted, respecting the right that aliens may enjoy within her territory. 3 Vol. Dall. Edit. 9 183. 653. Nor is there any force in the argument, that the jurisdiction in Maritime and Admiralty cases is exclusively vested in the Federal Government, without the use of exclusive words; for, those in their nature are exclusive, belong appropriately to the national character, and arise extra- territorially of any State; whereas naturalization is merely a municipal and domestic concern.

In opposition to the plea, it was urged, that contemplating the present situation of the United States, the birth of the complainant had made him an alien; and that in order to change the condition of alienage into that of citizenship, the interposition of a competent constitutional and legislative authority was indispensable. This authority, throughout the United States, resides in the Federal Government alone; for, the power of naturalization (which is given by the 8th sect. of the 1st Art. of the Constitution) does of itself import exclusion. That one member of the Union should be able to disturb all the rest, by the introduction of obnoxious characters, was an evil to be prevented, and no effectual mode could be adopted to obviate the inconveniences of different systems and regulations in different States, short of giving to Congress the exclusive power of establishing an uniform rule of naturalization. [295-Continued]

Exclusive words were not necessary in this case, any more than in the case of Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction, which is, nevertheless, allowed to be exclusively vested in the General Government without the use of such words. If, therefore, Congress had the exclusive power to admit citizens, that power being exercised by the act of the 26th March 1790, the naturalization under an act of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, was a mere nullity, and the complainant remains a subject of the British crown.

Page 2 U.S. 294, 296

By the Court: The question, now agitated, depends upon another question; whether the State of Pennsylvania, since the 26th of March 1790 ( when the act of Congress was passed) has a right to naturalize an alien? And this must receive its answer from the solution of a third question; whether, according to the constitution of the United States, the authority to naturalize is exclusive, or concurrent? We are of opinion, then, that the States, individually, still enjoy a concurrent authority upon this subject; but that their individual authority cannot be exercised, so as to contravene the rule established by the authority of the Union. The objection founded on the word uniform, and the arguments ab. inconvenienti, have been carried too far. It is, likewise, declared by the Constitution ( art. 1. s. 8.) that all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States; and yet, if express words of exclusion had not been inserted, as in a subsequent part of the same article (s. 10.) the individual States would still, undoubtedly, have been at liberty, without the consent of Congress, to lay and collect duties and imposts. Again; when, it is said, that one State ought not to be privileged to admit obnoxious citizens, to the injury of another, it should be recollected, that the State which communicates the infection, must herself be first infected; and in this, as in all other cases, we may be assured, that the principle of self-preservation will inculcate every reasonable precaution.

The true reason for investing Congress with the power of naturalization has been assigned at the Bar: It was to guard against too narrow, instead of too liberal, a mode of conferring the rights of citizenship. Thus, the individual States cannot exclude those citizens, who have been adopted by the United States; but they can adopt citizens upon easier terms, than those which Congress may deem it expedient to impose. But the act of Congress itself, furnishes a strong proof that the power of naturalization is concurrent. In the concluding proviso, it is declared, 'that no person heretofore proscribed by any State, shall be admitted a citizen as aforesaid, except by an act of the Legislature of the State, in which such person was proscribed.' Here, we find, that Congress has not only circumscribed the exercise of its own authority, but has recognized the authority of a State Legislature, in one case, to admit a citizen of the United States; which could not be done in any case, if the power of naturalization, either by its own nature, or by the manner of its being vested in the Federal Government, was an exclusive power. [296-Continued]

Upon the whole, the Court think that the plea to the jurisdiction has been maintained; and, therefore,

The Bill must be dismissed. *

* It is remarkable that the argument in this case, turned entirely upon the point, whether the Federal power of naturalization was exclusive, or concurrent; and nothing was said by either side respecting the existence and operation of the act of Pennsylvania, which, as it depended in form and spirit on the old Constitution was virtually repealed, when that Constitution was abolished. The ideas of the reporter on that subject, are contained in a note upon the naturalization laws of Pennsylvania, in his edition of the acts of the General Assembly, (1 Vol. p. 7. a) It may be proper to add, that there has since been a decision before Judge Biddle, in the Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, where the existence of the Pennsylvania law was the gift of the controversy: And in that case, as well as the case of the United States v. Vilatto (post.) the act of Assembly was adjudged to be obsolete.

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