A citizen of the District of Columbia cannot maintain an action
in the circuit court of the United States, not being a citizen of a
state within the meaning of the provision in the law of the United
States regulating the jurisdiction of the courts of the United
Page 6 U. S. 445
The certificate stated
"In this cause it occurred as a question whether Hepburn &
Dundas, the plaintiffs in this cause, who are citizens and
residents of the District of Columbia, and are so stated in the
pleadings, can maintain an action in this Court against the
defendant, who is a citizen and inhabitant of the Commonwealth of
Virginia, and is also stated so to be in the pleadings, or whether
for want of jurisdiction the said suit ought not to be dismissed.
Page 6 U. S. 452
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the
The question in this case is whether the plaintiffs, as
residents of the District of Columbia, can maintain an action in
the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of
This depends on the act of Congress describing the jurisdiction
of that court. That act gives jurisdiction to the circuit courts in
cases between a citizen of the state in which the suit is brought
and a citizen of another state. To support the jurisdiction in this
case, therefore, it must appear that Columbia is a state.
On the part of the plaintiffs, it has been urged that Columbia
is a distinct political society, and is therefore "a state"
according to the definitions of writers on general law.
This is true. But as the act of Congress obviously uses the word
"state" in reference to the term as used in the Constitution, it
becomes necessary to inquire whether Columbia is a state in the
sense of that instrument. The result of that examination is a
conviction that the members of the American confederacy only are
the states contemplated in the Constitution.
The House of Representations is to be composed of members chosen
by the people of the several states, and each state shall have at
least one representative.
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two
senators from each state.
Each state shall appoint, for the election of the executive, a
number of electors equal to its whole number of senators and
These clauses show that the word "state" is used in the
Constitution as designating a member of the union, and excludes
Page 6 U. S. 453
from the term the signification attached to it by writers on the
law of nations. When the same term, which has been used plainly in
this limited sense in the articles respecting the legislative and
executive departments, is also employed in that which respects the
judicial department, it must be understood as retaining the sense
originally given to it.
Other passages from the Constitution have been cited by the
plaintiffs to show that the term state is sometimes used in its
more enlarged sense. But on examining the passages quoted, they do
not prove what was to be shown by them.
It is true that as citizens of the United States and of that
particular district which is subject to the jurisdiction of
Congress, it is extraordinary that the courts of the United States,
which are open to aliens and to the citizens of every state in the
union, should be closed upon them. But this is a subject for
legislative, not for judicial consideration.
The opinion to be certified to the circuit court is that
that Court has no jurisdiction in the case.