Ex Parte McCardle


Congress instituted military districts in the south shortly after the Civil War under the Civil War Reconstruction Acts.  Defendant was a newspaper writer accused of and held for producing “libelous and inflammatory articles.”  Defendant filed an action in court claiming that there was no constitutional authority for Congress to have established the military governments under the Civil War Reconstruction Acts.  The circuit court shot down Defendant’s writ for habeas corpus, but the Supreme Court took up his appeal.  Upon hearing arguments, but getting no further, Congress rescinded parts of Civil War Reconstruction act which permitted the writ’s appeal to the Supreme Court.  Under the original Act, the Supreme Court had the authority to hear appeals related to habeas corpus.


  1. Whether the Supreme Court has the authority to hear the appeal.
  2. Whether Defendant’s imprisonment violates the Constitution.


  1. No, not in the instant case because Congress had the authority to withdraw the court’s ability to review the appeal.  Regardless of whether or not the Reconstruction Acts had been passed, Congress had jurisdiction to hear the appeal granted by the Constitution under Article III.  Article III, Section II of the Constitution states that the Congress can make exceptions to the Supreme Courts right of appeal.  Therefore, Congress correctly repealed by way of the exception powers granted by the Constitution. The opinion further noted that the repeal of jurisdiction only impacts rulings going forward and cannot apply retroactively.  As such, the instant case is correctly halted and McCardle does not have a legitimate avenue for appeal.

    The further stated, “its jurisdiction, and this affirmative description has been understood to imply a negation of the exercise of such appellate power as is not comprehended within it.”  In other words, where Congress gives the Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction over an act, it necessarily implies lack of jurisdiction over other matters.  The complete repeal of appellate jurisdiction by Congress, squarely represents Congress’s right of exception under the Constitution.

  2. Not answered.  Because the Court does not have jurisdiction, it cannot judge whether Defendant’s imprisonment violate the Constitution where the question has no jurisdiction.

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