The Stone Court (1941–46)

Commerce Clause

What was unusual about the Quirin case?

The case was unusual for many reasons. The case involved enemy spies on a German submarine who embarked upon Long Island. They clothed themselves in civilian garb but were detected by a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition to the interesting set of facts, Quirin was unusual due to the timing of the Supreme Court meeting and decision. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had created a special military commission to try the defendants in July 1942. During the trial, seven of the eight saboteurs petitioned the Court for the chance to file a habeas corpus claim, contesting their confinements as illegal. The U.S. Supreme Court met by special session on July 29, 1942, and two days later rejected the petitioners’ claims in a short per curiam opinion. The Court indicated that it would file a lengthier opinion explaining its legal position. The Court’s opinion was released in October 1942. In the meantime, six of the eight saboteurs had been executed a week after the Court’s initial decision in July.


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