United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. 128 (1871)
A law cannot tell a court to draw a certain conclusion or take a particular action that decides a case based on the evidence before it.
During the Civil War, Congress passed a law that allowed people whose property had been seized to recover it or receive compensation if they could show that they had been loyal during the war. Klein received a presidential pardon for his actions during the war, which the Supreme Court ruled to constitute sufficient proof of loyalty. He received an award of compensation for the seizure of his property, and the government appealed it. While the appeal was pending, Congress passed a law that provided that pardons without an express disclaimer of guilt would constitute proof of disloyalty, overruling the previous Supreme Court decision. Courts also were required under the new law to dismiss claims for lack of jurisdiction if there was such a pardon.Opinions
- Salmon Portland Chase (Author)
- Samuel Nelson
- Nathan Clifford
- Noah Haynes Swayne
- David Davis
- Stephen Johnson Field
- William Strong
Congress may withhold the right of appeal in certain types of cases, but it may not remove jurisdiction from a court and direct it how to decide a case. The legislative branch may not impose rules of decision on courts, since they have been granted sole authority over these cases under the Constitution. Congress also has violated the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches by undermining the effect of a Presidential pardon.
- Samuel Freeman Miller (Author)
- Joseph P. Bradley
This decision emphasized the separation of power under the Constitution, finding that Congress had exceeded the proper scope of its authority by taking a role usually reserved to the judicial and executive branches.
U.S. Supreme CourtUnited States v. Klein, 80 U.S. 13 Wall. 128 128 (1871)
United States v. Klein
80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 128
1. The Act of March 12th, 1863 (12 Stat. at Large 820), to provide for the collection of abandoned and captured property in insurrectionary districts within the United States, does not confiscate, or in any case absolutely divest the property of the original owner, even though disloyal. By the seizure, the government constituted itself a trustee for those who were entitled, or whom it should thereafter recognize as entitled.
2. By virtue of the act of 17th July, 1862, authorizing the President to offer pardon on such conditions as he might think advisable, and the proclamation of 8th December, 1863, which promised a restoration of all rights
of property, except as to slaves, on condition that the prescribed oath be taken and kept inviolate, the persons who had faithfully accepted the conditions offered became entitled to the proceeds of their property thus paid into the treasury, on application within two years from the close of the war.
3. The repeal, by an act of 21st January, 1867 (after the war had closed), of the act of 17th July, 1862, authorizing the executive to offer pardon, did not alter the operation of the pardon, or the obligation of Congress to give full effect to it if necessary by legislation.
4. The proviso in the appropriation act of July 12th, 1870 (16 Stat. at Large 235), in substance,
"That no pardon or amnesty granted by the President shall be admissible in evidence on the part of any claimant in the Court of Claims as evidence in support of any claim against the United States, or to establish the standing of any claimant in said court, or his right to bring or maintain suit therein; and that no such pardon or amnesty heretofore put in evidence on behalf of any claimant in that court be considered by it, or by the appellate court on appeal from said court, in deciding upon the claim of such claimant, or any appeal therefrom, as any part of the proof to sustain the claim of the claimant, or to entitle him to maintain his action in the Court of Claims, or on appeal therefrom, . . . but that proof of loyalty [such as the proviso goes on to mention] shall be made irrespective of the effective of any executive proclamation, pardon, amnesty, or other set of condonation or oblivion. And that, in all cases where judgment shall have been heretofore rendered in the Court of Claims in favor of any claimant on any other proof of loyalty than such as the provision requires, this court shall, on appeal, have no further jurisdiction of the cause, and shall dismiss the same for want of jurisdiction;"
"And further, that whenever any pardon shall have heretofore been granted by the President to any person bringing suit in the Court of Claims for the proceeds of abandoned or captured property under the act of March 12th, 1863, and such pardon shall recite, in substance, that such person took part in the late rebellion, or was guilty of any act of rebellion against, or disloyalty to, the United States, and such pardon shall have been accepted, in writing, by the person to whom the same issued, without an express disclaimer of and protestation against such fact of guilt contained in such acceptance, such pardon and acceptance shall be taken and deemed in such suit in the said Court of Claims, and on appeal therefrom, conclusive evidence that such person did take part in and give aid and comfort to the late rebellion, and did not maintain true allegiance or consistently adhere to the United States, and, on proof of such pardon and acceptance, the jurisdiction of the court in the case shall cease, and the court shall forthwith dismiss the suit of such claimant . . ."
is in conflict with the views expressed in paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 above, and is unconstitutional and void. Its substance being that an acceptance of a pardon without a disclaimer shall be conclusive evidence of the acts pardoned, but shall be null and void as evidence of rights conferred by it, both in the Court of Claims and in this court; it invades the powers both of the judicial and of the executive departments of the government.
This was a motion by Mr. Ackerman, Attorney General, in behalf of the United States, to remand an appeal from the Court of Claims which the government had taken in June, 1869, with a mandate that the same be dismissed for want of jurisdiction as now required by law.
The case was thus:
Congress, during the progress of the late rebellion, passed various laws to regulate the subject of forfeiture, confiscation, or appropriation to public use without compensation, of private property whether real or personal of noncombatant enemies.
The first was the act of July 13th, 1861. [Footnote 1] It made liable to seizure and forfeiture all property passing to and fro between the loyal and insurrectionary States, and the vessels and vehicles by which it should be attempted to be conveyed.
So an act of August 6th, 1861, [Footnote 2] subjected to seizure and forfeiture all property of every kind, used or intended to be used in aiding, abetting, or promoting the insurrection, or allowing or permitting it to be so used.
These statutes require judicial condemnation to make the forfeiture complete.
A more general law, and one upon which most of the seizures made during the rebellion was founded, is the act of July 17th, 1862. [Footnote 3] It provides for the punishment of treason, and specifies its disqualifications and disabilities. In its sixth section, it provides that every person who shall be engaged in or be aiding the rebellion, and shall not cease and return to his allegiance within sixty days after proclamation made by the President of the United States, shall forfeit all his property, &c. The proclamation required by this act was issued by the President on the 25th day of July, 1862. [Footnote 4] The sixty days expired September 23d, 1862.
On the 12th of March, 1863, Congress passed another species of act -- the one entitled "An act to provide for the
collection of abandoned property, &c., in insurrectionary districts within the United States." The statute authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to appoint special agents to receive and collect all abandoned or captured property in any State or Territory in insurrection:
Provided, That such property shall not include any kind or description which has been used, or which was intended to be used, for waging or carrying on war against the United States, such as arms, ordnance, ships, steamboats, or other watercraft, and their furniture, forage, military supplies, or munitions of war.
The statute went on:
"And any person claiming to have been the owner of any such abandoned or captured property may, at any time within two years after the suppression of the rebellion, prefer his claim to the proceeds thereof in the Court of Claims, and on proof to the satisfaction of said court of his ownership of said property, of his right to the proceeds thereof, and that he has never given any aid or comfort to the present rebellion, to receive the residue of such proceeds after the deduction of any purchase money which may have been paid, together with the expense of transportation and sale of said property, and any other lawful expenses attending the disposition thereof."
Some other acts, amendatory of this one or relating to the Court of Claims, required proof of the petitioner's loyalty during the rebellion as a condition precedent to recovery.
By the already mentioned confiscation act of July 17th, 1862, the President was authorized by proclamation to extend to persons who had participated in rebellion pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions, and at such times, and on such conditions as he should deem expedient for the public welfare.
And on the 8th of December, 1863, he did issue his proclamation, reciting the act, and that certain persons who had been engaged in the rebellion desired to resume their allegiance and reinaugurate loyal State governments within and for their respective States. And thereupon proclaimed
that a full pardon should be thereby granted to them, with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves, and in property cases where rights of third parties shall have intervened, and upon condition that every such person shall take and subscribe a prescribed oath of allegiance, and thenceforward keep and maintain said oath inviolate, &c.
Under this proclamation, V. F. Wilson, who during the rebellion had voluntarily become the surety on the official bonds of certain officers of the rebel confederacy, and so given aid and comfort, to it, took, February 15th, 1864, this oath of allegiance, and had kept the same inviolate.
He himself having died in 1865, one Klein, his administrator, filed a petition in the Court of Claims, setting forth Wilson's ownership of certain cotton which he had abandoned to the treasury agents of the United States, and which they had sold, putting the proceeds into the Treasury of the United States, where they now were, and from which the petitioner sought to obtain them. This petition was filed December 26th, 1865.
The section of the act of 1862, by which the President was authorized to extend pardon and amnesty on such conditions as he should deem expedient for the public welfare, was repealed on the 21st of January, 1867. [Footnote 5]
The Court of Claims, on the 26th May, 1869, decided that Wilson had been entitled to receive the proceeds of his cotton, and decreed $125,300 to Klein, the administrator of his estate. An appeal was taken by the United States June 3d, following, and filed in this court on the 11th December, of the same year.
Previously to this case of Klein's, the Court of Claims had had before it the case of one Padelford, quite like this one, for there also the claimant, who had abandoned his cotton and now claimed its proceeds, having participated in the rebellion, had taken the amnesty oath. The Court of Claims held that the oath cured his participation in the rebellion,
and so it gave him a decree for the proceeds of his cotton in the treasury. The United States brought that case here by appeal, [Footnote 6] and the decree of the Court of Claims was affirmed, this court declaring that, although Padelford had participated in the rebellion, yet, that having been pardoned, he was as innocent in law as though he had never participated, and that his property was purged of whatever offence he had committed and relieved from any penalty that he might have incurred. The judgment of this court to the effect above mentioned was publicly announced on the 30th of April, 1870.
Soon after this -- the bill making appropriations for the legislative, executive, and judicial expenses of the government for the year 1870-71 then pending in Congress -- the following was introduced as a proviso to an appropriation of $100,000, in the first section, for the payment of judgments in the Court of Claims, and, with this proviso in it, the bill became a law July 12th, 1870: [Footnote 7]
"Provided, That no pardon or amnesty granted by the President, whether general or special, by proclamation or otherwise, nor any acceptance of such pardon or amnesty, nor oath taken, or other act performed in pursuance or as a condition thereof shall be admissible in evidence on the part of any claimant in the Court of Claims as evidence in support of any claim against the United States, or to establish the standing of any claimant in said court, or his right to bring or maintain suit therein; nor shall any such pardon, amnesty, acceptance, oath, or other act as aforesaid, heretofore offered or put in evidence on behalf of any claimant in said court, be used or considered by said court, or by the appellate court on appeal from said court, in deciding upon the claim of said claimant, or any appeal therefrom, as any part of the proof to sustain the claim of the claimant, or to entitle him to maintain his action in said Court of Claims, or on appeal therefrom; but the proof of loyalty required by the Abandoned and Captured Property Act, and by the sections of several acts quoted, shall be made by proof of the matters required,
irrespective of the effect of any executive proclamation, pardon, amnesty, or other act of condonation or oblivion. And in all cases where judgment shall have been heretofore rendered in the Court of Claims in favor of any claimant, on any other proof of loyalty than such as is above required and provided, and which is hereby declared to have been and to be the true intent and meaning of said respective acts, the Supreme Court shall, on appeal, have no further jurisdiction of the cause, and shall dismiss the same for want of jurisdiction."
"And provided further, That whenever any pardon shall have heretofore been granted by the President of the United States to any person bringing suit in the Court of Claims for the proceeds of abandoned or captured property under the said act, approved 12th March, 1863, and the acts amendatory of the same, and such pardon shall recite in substance that such person took part in the late rebellion against the government of the United States, or was guilty of any act of rebellion against, or disloyalty to, the United States; and such pardon shall have been accepted in writing by the person to whom the same issued without an express disclaimer of, and protestation against, such fact of guilt contained in such acceptance, such pardon and acceptance shall be taken and deemed in such suit in the said Court of Claims, and on appeal therefrom, conclusive evidence that such person did take part in, and give aid and comfort to, the late rebellion, and did not maintain true allegiance or consistently adhere to the United States; and on proof of such pardon and acceptance, which proof may be heard summarily on motion or otherwise, the jurisdiction of the court in the case shall cease, and the court shall forthwith dismiss the suit of such claimant."
The motion already mentioned, of the Attorney General, that the case be remanded to the Court of Claims with a mandate that the same be dismissed for want of jurisdiction, as now required by law, was, of course, founded on this enactment in the appropriation bill of July 12th, 1870.