Ex parte Jackson
96 U.S. 727 (1878)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ex parte Jackson, 96 U.S. 727 (1878)

Ex parte Jackson

96 U.S. 727

Syllabus

1. The power vested in Congress to establish "post offices and post roads" embraces the regulation of the entire postal system of the country. Under it, Congress may designate what shall be carried in the mail and what excluded.

2. In the enforcement of regulations excluding matter from the mail, a distinction is to be made between what is intended to be kept free from inspection, such as letters and sealed packages subject to letter postage, and what is open to inspection, such as newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and other printed matter purposefully left in a condition to be examined.

3. Letters and sealed packages subject to letter postage in the mail can be opened and examined only under like warrant, issued upon similar oath or affirmation, particularly describing the thing to be seized, as is required when papers are subjected to search in one's own household. The constitutional guaranty of the right of the people to be secure in their papers against unreasonable searches and seizures extends to their papers, thus closed against inspection, wherever they may be.

4. Regulations against transporting in the mail printed matter which is open to examination cannot be enforced so as to interfere in any manner with the freedom of the press. Liberty of circulating is essential to that freedom. When, therefore, printed matter is excluded from the mail, its transportation in any other was as merchandise cannot be forbidden by Congress.

5. Regulations excluding matter from the mail may be enforced through the courts, upon competent evidence of their violation obtained in other ways than by unlawful inspection of letters and sealed packages; and with respect to objectionable printed matter, open to examination, they may in some cases also be enforced by the direct action of the officers of the postal service upon their own inspection, as where the object is exposed, and shows unmistakably that it is prohibited, as in the case of an obscene picture or print.

6. When a party is convicted of an offence and sentenced to pay a fine, it is within the discretion of the court to order his imprisonment until the fine shall be paid.

Page 96 U. S. 728

Section 3894 of the Revised Statutes provides that

"No letter or circular concerning illegal lotteries, so-called gift-concerts, or other similar enterprises offering prizes, or concerning schemes devised and intended to deceive and defraud the public, for the purpose of obtaining money under false pretenses, shall be carried in the mail. Any person who shall knowingly deposit or send any thing to be conveyed by mail, in violation of this section, shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $500, nor less than $100, with costs of prosecution."

By an act approved July 12, 1876 (19 Stat. 90), the word "illegal" was stricken out of the section. Under the law as thus amended, the petitioner was indicted, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, for knowingly and unlawfully depositing, on the 23d of February, 1877, at that district, in the mail of the United States, to be conveyed in it, a circular concerning a lottery offering prizes, enclosed in an envelope addressed to one J. Ketcham, at Gloversville, New York. The indictment sets forth the offence in separate counts, so as to cover every form in which it could be stated under the act. Upon being arraigned, the petitioner stood mute, refusing to plead; and thereupon a plea of not guilty was entered in his behalf by order of the court. Rev.Stat., sect. 1032. He was subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced to pay a fine of $100, with the costs of the prosecution, and to be committed to the county jail until the fine and costs were paid. Upon his commitment, which followed, he presented to this court a petition alleging that he was imprisoned and restrained of his liberty by the marshal of the Southern District of New York, under the conviction; that such conviction was illegal, and that the illegality consisted in this: that the court had no jurisdiction to punish him for the acts charged in the indictment; that the act under which the indictment was drawn was unconstitutional and void; and that the court exceeded its jurisdiction in committing him until the fine was paid. He therefore prayed for a writ of habeas corpus to be directed to the marshal to bring him before the court, and a writ of certiorari to be directed to the clerk of the Circuit Court to send up the record of his conviction, that this court might

Page 96 U. S. 729

inquire into the cause and legality of his imprisonment. Accompanying the petition, as exhibits, were copies of the indictment and of the record of conviction. The court, instead of ordering that the writs issue at once, entered a rule, the counsel of the petitioner consenting thereto, that cause be shown, on a day designated, why the writs should not issue as prayed; and that a copy of the rule be served on the Attorney-General of the United States, the marshal of the Southern District of New York, and the clerk of the Circuit Court. The Attorney-General, for himself and others, answered the rule by averring that the petition and exhibits do not make out a case in which this court has jurisdiction to order the writs to issue, and that the petitioner is in lawful custody by virtue of the proceedings and sentence mentioned in the exhibits, and the commitment issued thereon.

Page 96 U. S. 732

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