Robertson v. Baldwin
Annotate this Case
165 U.S. 275 (1897)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275 (1897)
Robertson v. Baldwin
Argued December 15, 1896
Decided January 25, 1897
165 U.S. 275
Section 4598 of the Revised Statutes is not unconstitutional by reason of its authorizing justices of the peace to issue warrants to apprehend deserting seamen and deliver them up to the master of their vessel.
The judicial power of the United States is defined by the Constitution, and does not prevent Congress from authorizing state officers to take affidavits, to arrest and commit for trial offenders against the laws of the United States, to naturalize aliens, and to perform such other duties as may be regarded as incidental to the judicial power, rather than a part of it.
Section 4598 and 4599, insofar as they require seamen to carry out the contracts contained in their shipping articles, are not in conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment forbidding slavery and involuntary servitude, and it cannot be open to doubt that the provision against involuntary servitude was never intended to apply to such contracts.
The contract of a sailor has always been treated as an exceptional one, and involving to a certain extent the surrender of his personal liberty during the life of the contract.
This was an appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Northern District of California, rendered August 5, 1895, dismissing a writ of habeas corpus issued upon the petition of Robert Robertson, H. H. Olsen, John Bradley, and Morris Hanson.
The petition set forth in substance that the petitioners were unlawfully restrained of their liberty by Barry Baldwin, Marshal for the Northern District of California, in the county jail of Alameda County, by virtue of an order of commitment, made by a United States commissioner, committing them for trial upon a charge of disobedience of the lawful orders of the master of the American barkentine Arago; that such commitment
was made without reasonable or probable cause, in this, that at the time of the commission of the alleged offense, petitioners were held on board the Arago against their will and by force, having been theretofore placed on board said vessel by the Marshal for the District of Oregon, under the provisions of Rev.St. § 4596, subdivision 1, and §§ 4598, 4599, the master claiming the right to hold petitioners by virtue of these acts; that §§ 4598 and 4599 are unconstitutional and in violation of Section 1 of Article III of, and of the Fifth Amendment to, the Constitution; that § 4598 was also repealed by Congress on June 7, 1872, 17 Stat. 262, and that the first subdivision of § 4596 is in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment in that it compels involuntary servitude.
The record was somewhat meager, but it sufficiently appeared that the petitioners had shipped on board the Arago at San Francisco for a voyage to Knappton, in the State of Washington, thence to Valparaiso, and thence to such other foreign ports as the master might direct, and return to a port of discharge in the United States; that they had each signed shipping articles to perform the duties of seamen during the course of the voyage, but, becoming dissatisfied with their employment, they left the vessel at Astoria, in the State of Oregon, and were subsequently arrested, under the provisions of Rev.Stat. §§ 4596 to 4599, taken before a justice of the peace, and by him committed to jail until the Arago was ready for sea (some sixteen days), when they were taken from the jail by the marshal, and placed on board the Arago against their will; that they refused to "turn to" in obedience to the orders of the master, were arrested at San Francisco, charged with refusing to work in violation of Rev.Stat. § 4596, were subsequently examined before a commissioner of the circuit court, and by him held to answer such charge before the District Court for the Northern District of California.
Shortly thereafter they sued out this writ of habeas corpus, which, upon a hearing before the district court, was dismissed, and an order made remanding the prisoners to the custody of the marshal.