The Sitting SCOTUS Justices

In Lower Canada (Quebec), Mr. George Holmes was indicted for murder. Soon after Mr. Holmes flees to Vermont, and the governor of Lower Canada requests Vermont’s governor Silas H. Jennison to arrest and hold Mr. Holmes for extradition. On July 19,1839, Mr. George Holmes late of Sorel is presenting a petition to the Supreme Court of the State of Vermont, for a writ of habeas corpus which was in session, setting forth how he was in the custody of Mr. John Starkweather, Esquire, Sheriff which was of the County of Washington, jailed in Montpelier, in addition with a warrant bearing a date of April 16, 1830, which had been issued by Mr. Silas H. Jennison, who happened to be the governor of Vermont at said time, stating how he was unlawfully imprisoned and restrained of all his personal liberty and freedom (Landmark Decisions).

Arguing that Canada and the United States had no agreement or treaty that would allow for his extradition. However, at this time the Vermont court had denied the writ, and Mr. Holmes appeals directly to the Supreme Court. While Mr. Holmes continued to pray for a writ of habeas corpus, and it is directed to sheriff John Starkweather (The Oxford Guide).

Detailing that Mr. George Holmes, did on the date, of January 31, 1838, did feloniously kill and murder one Mr. Louis Paschall Achille Tache, at the parish of St. Louis of Kamouraska, in said district, and whereas Mr. George Holmes not being a citizen of the State of Vermont, in addition, or of any of the United States, but rather was a citizen of the province of Lower Canada, and which had come into the state from said province of Canada, also the offense where he was being charged with as aforesaid, having been committed within the jurisdiction of said province as well. Stating that Mr. Holmes was fit, and expedient should be made accountable to the laws of the said province for his offense.

One of the questions was could the Supreme Court have reviewed in the denial of a writ of habeas corpus by a state court? Also, could a state official authorize foreign extradition or were international extraditions solely a matter for the national government? The writ of error was dismissed, the Court being equally divided voting four to four, which left intact the Vermont decision denying the writ of habeas corpus to Mr. George Holmes.

The sitting SCOTUS justices at the time were Roger Taney (1835-1864), Joseph Story (1812-1845), John McLean (1823-1843), James Moore Wayne (1835-1867), Smith Thompson (1923-1843), Henry Baldwin (1830-1844), Philip Pendleton Barbour (1836-1841), John Catron (1837-1865). Writing a strong nationalistic opinion, Chief Justice Taney stating how he supported the federal power yet rejected the state’s rights arguments. In conclusion, in fact, did also state how international extraditions were entirely a matter for the branch of the federal government which was the executive branch. Taney did assert that the Constitution’s clause declared that “no state shall enter into any treaty, confederation or alliance” nor it should be construed broadly prohibiting the states from entering into “compact” or “agreement” with any foreign nation.

This, in addition, helped Taney and three other justice’s side with him as they were also members of a federal court and granted the writ of habeas corpus to Mr. George Holmes on the theory that did, in fact, show that Vermont did lack the power of complying with the extradition request of a foreign power (The Oxford Companion). Taney did support state’s rights often, but he also offered one strong theory of constitutional nationalism and of federal supremacy. By this exclusive power, Taney reasoned that a state governor had no authority in the surrendering or in the handing over of a fugitive to a foreign country. As the other four justices, (Thompson, Baldwin, Barbour, and Catron) did write separately stating how they did not believe that the Supreme Court could or should review a habeas corpus case from the state court which was your classic states’ example of your rights theory at said time. Justice Smith Thompson, did, however, imply his own opinion in the case that Governor Silas Jennison did not have any authority to order Mr. Holmes to surrender, and in view of the fact, this was how five of the eight justices on the case denied Jennison’s authority (The Oxford Companion).

Vermont’s Supreme Court reconsidered its position and noting how five of their eight justices did not believe Vermont at any point of time had the power or right to extradite any one person to a foreign country, and so agreed by voting for the release of Mr. Holmes. There was only one argument, and that was that the act done by the Governor of Vermont, was a violation of the provisions of the Constitution shows that only the President and the Senate have the power to make treaties with foreign states, and Vermont had surrendered to a foreign state a fugitive from justice who was within jurisdiction: Therefore, Vermont had violated that part of the Constitution which authorized only the President and Senate to make treaties.

This case being argued on January 24-25, 1840, was dismissed on March 4, 1840. While divided 4 to 4 over questions, The U.S. Supreme Court did dismiss the case for want of jurisdiction. Sila H. Jennison, governor of Vermont did on April 27, 1839, request that Mr. George Holmes immediately be released and delivered to Mr. William Brown, who was the agent of Canada and or to anyone of their such people in charge, by the laws of such province whom might be authorized to receiving one said Mr. Holmes in a convenient place for state and the province of Canada which conveys to the district of Quebec. Joseph Story, a Nationalist did, in fact, applaud Roger Taney’s reasoning, though states-rightist James Buchanan also did, in fact, find it deploring. The Webster-Ashburton in 1842, did provide for extradition between the United States and Canada.

This made it important to the history of the United States, I believe by showing that no state shall enter any treaty or alliance in any extradition with any foreign country. I personally choose this case out of so many because it called my attention to how Mr. Holmes even though taking someone’s life making himself a murderer was fighting for his release and freedom from the state of Vermont and how the governor there held him without the United States having a treaty with Canada for extradition in the 1840s. I do inclusively believe that the sitting justices did make the correct decision When Chief Justice Roger Taney stated clearly where he stand and his support for the federal power yet rejected the state’s rights argument. I always believe in people having do process and for no one to abuse their power.