Cohens v. Virginia Case Brief

Facts of the case

An act of Congress authorized the operation of a lottery in the District of Columbia. The Cohen brothers proceeded to sell D.C. lottery tickets in the state of Virginia, violating state law. State authorities tried and convicted the Cohens, and then declared themselves to be the final arbiters of disputes between the states and the national government.


The Court found the writ of error was governed by the Constitution, and judicial power extended to all cases arising under the Constitution without respect to the parties. The Court found the Constitution granted it jurisdiction and authority to hear the controversy between a gaming law enacted by Congress, and a state law prohibiting the sale of lottery tickets. The Constitution further granted the federal judiciary with supervisory power over state court judgments. Lastly, the Court found that Congress enacted the lottery statute according to its exclusive legislative power over Washington, D.C. intending it to be local legislation. Since the lottery statute was not enacted as a law of the United States, it did not preempt state statutes.

  • Advocates: –
  • Petitioner: Philip and Mendes Cohen
  • Respondent: Virginia
  • DECIDED BY:Marshall Court
  • Location: Elizabeth River Parish (now site of Norfolk Naval Station)
Citation: 19 US 264 (1821)
Argued: Feb 14, 1821 Feb 19, 1821 Feb 20, 1821 Mar 2, 1821
Decided: Mar 5, 1821
Cohens v. Virginia Case Brief