The Chase Court (1864–73)
In what decision did the Court allow Congress to take away the Court’s appellate jurisdiction?
The Chase Court unanimously ruled in Ex Parte McCardle (1869) that it no longer had jurisdiction over habeas corpus appeals because Congress had amended the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867 to eliminate the Court’s appellate jurisdiction.
The case must be understood in light of a continuing battle between Congress and the Court over legislation passed during the time of Reconstruction. The defendant in McCardle asserted that he was being detained in violation of his constitutional rights. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court under a provision in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867. However, Congress, fearful the Court might invalidate the Reconstruction Acts, amended the Habeas Corpus law to eliminate the Court’s jurisdiction.
Chief Justice Chase wrote succinctly: “It is quite clear, therefore, that this court cannot proceed to pronounce judgment in this case, for it has no longer jurisdiction of the appeal.”
Some have criticized the Court for bowing to Congress in this case. However, Chief Justice William Rehnquist may have summed it up best in a 2003 speech about judicial independence when he said: “Undoubtedly, it could have ruled differently may be that the Court’s apparent decision to live to fight another day was the best conceivable one under the circumstances.”