Boske v. Comingore,
177 U.S. 459 (1900)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Boske v. Comingore, 177 U.S. 459 (1900)

Boske v. Comingore

Submitted January 8, 1900

Decided April 9, 1900

177 U.S. 459


A United States collector of Internal Revenue was adjudged by a court of limited jurisdiction in Kentucky to be in contempt because he refused, while giving his deposition in a case pending in the state court, to file copies of certain reports made by distillers, and which reports were in his custody as a subordinate officer of the Treasury Department. He based his refusal upon a regulation of that Department which provided:

"All records in the offices of collectors of internal revenue or of any of their deputies are in their custody and control for purposes relating to the collection of the revenues of the United States only. They have no control of them and no discretion with regard to permitting the use of them for any other purpose."

This regulation was made by the Secretary of the Treasury under the authority conferred upon him by section 161 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, which authorized that officer, as the head of an Executive Department of the government,

"to prescribe regulations, not inconsistent with law, for the government of his department, the conduct of its officers and clerks, the distribution and performance of its business, and the custody, use and preservation of the records; papers and property appertaining to it."

The collector, having been arrested under the order of the state authorities, sued out a writ of habeas corpus before the District Court of the United States for the Kentucky District.


(1) That the case was properly brought directly from the district court to this Court as one involving the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States.

(2) As the petitioner was an officer in the revenue service of the United States whose presence at his post of duty was important to the public interests, and whose detention in prison by the state authorities might have interfered with the regular and orderly course of the business of the Department to which he belonged, it was proper for the district court to consider the questions raised by the writ of habeas corpus and to discharge the petitioner if held in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(3) The regulation adopted by the Secretary of the Treasury was authorized by section 161 of the Revised Statutes, and that section was consistent with the Constitution of the United States. To invest the Secretary with authority to prescribe regulations not inconsistent

Page 177 U. S. 460

with law for the conduct of the business of his Department and to provide for the custody, use and preservation of the records, papers and property appertaining to it, was a means appropriate and plainly adapted to the successful administration of the affairs of his Department, and it was competent for him to forbid his subordinates to allow the use of official papers in their custody except for the purpose of aiding the collection of the revenues of the United States.

(4) In determining whether the regulation in question was valid, the court proceeded upon the ground that it was not to be deemed invalid unless it was plainly and palpably against law.

The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.

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