Ex Parte Milligan Case Brief

Summary of Ex Parte Milligan

2. Facts: The case came before the court upon a certificate of division from the judges of the Circuit Court for Indiana, on a petition for discharge from unlawful imprisonment. The case involved the Judiciary Act of 1789, section 14. This enacts that the Circuit Courts of the United States shall have power to issue writs of habeas corpus. Also, that either of the justices of the Supreme Court, as well as judges of the District Court, shall have power to grant writs of habeas corpus for the purpose of an inquiry into the cause of commitment. Milligan, not a resident of one of the rebellious states, or a prisoner of war, but a citizen of Indiana for twenty years past and never in the military or naval service, is, while at his home, arrested by the military power of the United States, imprisoned, and, on certain criminal charges preferred against him, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged by a military commission, organized under the direction of the military commander of the military district of Indiana.

3. Issue: Upon the facts stated in Milligan’s petition, and the exhibits filed, had the military commission mentioned in it jurisdiction, legally, to try and sentence him?

4. Holding: No

5. Majority Reasoning: The Court decided that military rule could not supersede the civil courts in areas where the civil courts and government remained open and operational. Indiana had been a loyal state, and its regular government and courts had functioned throughout the war. In such a situation, the military courts had no jurisdiction over civilians. If armies were collected in Indiana, they were to be employed in another locality, where the laws were obstructed and the national authority disputed. On her soil there was no hostile foot; if once invaded, that invasion was at an end, and with it all pretext for martial law. Martial law cannot arise from a threatened invasion. The necessity must be actual and present; the invasion real, such as effectual closes the courts and deposes the civil administration.

6. Notes: In Ex Parte Milligan, the Court asserted that the Writ is not suspended but only the privilege. The Writ would issue and the issuing court on its return would determine whether the person applying can proceed, thereby passing on the constitutionality of the suspension and whether the petitioner is within the terms of the suspension.

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