The Prize Cases Case Brief

Summary of The Prize Cases
67 U. S. 635 [1863]

War and National Defense:

Relevant Facts: President Lincoln declared a blockade of southern ports in 1861. Pursuant to this blockade Union ships seized merchant vessels and their cargoes of foreign neutrals and residents of the southern states. The ships were condemned by federal ct. order.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the President had authority to institute a blockade of southern ports?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: The owners of the scuttled ships and seized cargo appealed the federal ct. order directly to the S. Ct. Affirmed except as to certain cargo which was bought before the outbreak of War.

Law or Rule(s): A1S8C11 – Congress shall have the power to declare war.

Court Rationale: By Acts of Congress the President is authorized to call out the militia and use the military and naval forces to suppress insurrection against the government of a state or the U.S. The proclamation of the blockade is official and conclusive evidence to the court that a state of war existed which demanded and authorized a recourse to such a measure. The President was bound to meet the war in the shape it presented itself, w/o waiting for Congress. Congress passed an Act “approving, legalizing, and making valid all the acts, proclamations, and orders of the President as if they had been issued and done under the previous express authority and direction of the Congress.

Plaintiff’s Argument: (Ship Owners) The President has no Constitutional power to initiate or declare war.

Defendant’s Argument: (Govt) Acts of Congress conferred the authority to the President to act pursuant to wartime. President was already the Commander in Chief and mandated to faithfully carry out and execute the laws of the U.S. which said Acts were.

Inter gentes – Among or between People

Ex Majore cautela – by a greater person’s care or caution

Unilateral – mutual

panoply – full effect, display or spectacle.



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