Keller v. United States
213 U.S. 138 (1909)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Keller v. United States, 213 U.S. 138 (1909)

Keller v. United States

Nos. 653, 654

Argued March 1, 1909

Decided April 5, 1909

213 U.S. 138


Speaking generally, the police power is reserved to the states, and there is no grant thereof to Congress in the Constitution.

Notwithstanding the offensiveness of the crime, the courts cannot sustain a federal penal statute if the power to punish the same has not been delegated to Congress by the Constitution.

Where there is collision between the power of the state and that of Congress, the superior authority of the latter prevails. While Congress has power to exclude aliens from, and to prescribe the terms and conditions on which aliens may come into, the United States, Turner v. Williams, 194 U. S. 279, that power does not extend to controlling dealings with aliens after their arrival merely on account of their alienage.

Page 213 U. S. 139

That portion of the Act of February 20, 1907, c. 1134, 34 Stat. 898, which makes it a felony to harbor alien prostitutes held unconstitutional as to one harboring such a prostitute without knowledge of her alienage or in connection with her coming into the United States, as a regulation of a matter within the police power reserved to the state and not within any power delegated to Congress by the Constitution.

Section 3 of the Act of Congress of February 20, 1907, 34 Stat. 898, 899, c. 1134, entitled "An Act to Regulate the Immigration of Aliens into the United States," reads as follows:

"SEC. 3. That the importation into the United States of any alien woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution, or for any other immoral purpose, is hereby forbidden, and whoever shall, directly or indirectly, import, or attempt to import, into the United States, any alien woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution, or for any other immoral purpose, or whoever shall hold or attempt to hold any alien woman or girl for any such purpose in pursuance of such illegal importation, or whoever shall keep, maintain, control, support, or harbor in any house or other place, for the purpose of prostitution, or for any other immoral purpose, any alien woman or girl, within three years after she shall have entered the United States, shall, in every such case, be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, be imprisoned not more than five years, and pay a fine of not more than five thousand dollars, and any alien woman or girl who shall be found an inmate of a house of prostitution or practicing prostitution at any time within three years after she shall have entered the United States, shall be deemed to be unlawfully within the United States, and shall be deported as provided by sections twenty and twenty-one of this act."

The plaintiffs in error were indicted for a violation of this section, the charge against them being based upon that portion of the section which is in italics, and, in terms, that they "willfully and knowingly did keep, maintain, control, support, and harbor in their certain house of prostitution" (describing it), "for the purpose of prostitution, a certain alien woman, to-wit, Irene Bodi," who was, as they well knew, a subject of the

Page 213 U. S. 140

King of Hungary, who had entered the United States within three years. A trial was had upon this indictment; the plaintiffs in error were convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary for eighteen months.

Page 213 U. S. 143

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