The Waite Court (1874–88)

Miscellaneous Decisions

CourtSpeak: Ex Parte Siebold Ballot Box Stuffing Case (1880)

Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite (majority): “It is objected that Congress has no power to enforce State laws or to punish State officers, and especially has no power to punish them for violating the laws of their own State. As a general proposition, this is undoubtedly true; but when, in the performance of their functions, State officers are called upon to fulfill duties which they owe to the United States as well as to the State, has the former no means of compelling such fulfillment? Yet that is the case here. It is the duty of the States to elect representatives to Congress. The due and fair election of these representatives is of vital importance to the United States. The government of the United States is no less concerned in the transaction than the State government is. It certainly is not bound to stand by as a passive spectator, when duties are violated and outrageous frauds are committed. It is directly interested in the faithful performance, by the officers of election, of their respective duties. Those duties are owed as well to the United States as to the State. This necessarily follows from the mixed character of the transaction,—State and national. A violation of duty is an offence against the United States, for which the offender is justly amenable to that government. No official position can shelter him from this responsibility. In view of the fact that Congress has plenary and paramount jurisdiction over the whole subject, it seems almost absurd to say that an officer who receives or has custody of the ballots given for a representative owes no duty to the national government which Congress can enforce; or that an officer who stuffs the ballot-box cannot be made amenable to the United States.”


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