United States v. Sisson

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: 17th Judicial Circuit Green County Alabama Jury Commission

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 399 US 267 (1970)
ARGUED: Jan 20, 1970 / Jan 21, 1970
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1970

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Sisson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 1970 in United States v. Sisson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 20, 1970 in United States v. Sisson

Warren E. Burger:

We will take Number 305, United States against Sisson.

Mr. Solicitor General.

Erwin N. Griswold:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This too is a draft case raising two new unrelated and difficult problems.

In a third aspect it's like the Welsh case which has just been argued.

And for my argument on the question relating to religious training and belief, I rely on the argument in the case just concluded.

The defendant here was indicted for failing to report for induction.

There was a trial before jury at which the defendant testified.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty.

The defendant then made a motion in arrest of judgment.

In his motion, the defendant said that he could not participate in the Vietnam War without doing violence to the dictates of his conscience.

And he further stated that, he cannot qualify as a conscientious objector within the meaning of the Military Selective Service Act of 1967 because he is not a pacifist.

And in any event, his convictions that the Vietnam War is illegal, immoral, and unjust are not based on religious training and belief.

The District Court granted the motion in arrest of judgment and so doing it referred to facts which had appeared at the trial and noted that particularly the defendants own testimony.

And noted that “in substance the case arises upon an agreed statement of facts,” that appears on page 250 of the appendix.

I can state that none of the facts is controvert.

We do not dispute that the appellee was sincerely and conscientiously opposed to the Vietnam conflict based on his moral convictions, educational training, extensive reading both about Vietnam, and about such things as the UN Charter and the Nuremberg Trial.

As I have indicated, his claim is selective not against war in any form as the phrase is in the statute.

And he expressly asserts that it is not based on religious training and belief.

In this situation, the District Court held that the appellee had a valid claim to be constitutionally exempted from combat in the Vietnam type of situation.

John M. Harlan II:

Do you think this is a motion in arrest of judgment or motion for an acquittal?

Erwin N. Griswold:

This is a subject to which I am about to address my argument.

It is the -- I was trying to give the setting.

The first half of my argument is devoted to jurisdiction and the second half to selective conscientious objection.

The Court concluded that the Military Service Act violated the free exercise in Due Process Clauses.

It held in the alternative of Section 6 (j) the exemption provision violated the Establishment Clause and that it unreasonably discriminated between religious and non-religious conscientious objection.

From this decision, the United States took this appeal purporting to act under the Second Clause of the Criminal Appeal Act of 1907.

Now, found in Title 18 of the United States Code Section 3731, the relevant passages from which are set out on page 13 of the Government's brief.

And now, I will turn to the jurisdictional question which in my mind is a very close question.

We contend that there is jurisdiction but arguments can be made both ways.