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Ex Parte Quirin

Significance, Supreme Court Holds Special Session As Saboteurs Face Death Penalty


Richard Quirin, et al.


Albert Cox, Brigadier General, Provost Marshal of the Military District of Washington

Petitioners' Claim

That the president lacks the power to set up special military tribunals to try war crimes, and that civil courts have the right to review decisions made by these special military courts.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioners

Kenneth C. Royall

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

Francis Biddle, U.S. Attorney General

Justices for the Court

Hugo Lafayette Black, James Francis Byrnes, William O. Douglas, Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, Stanley Forman Reed, Owen Josephus Roberts, Harlan Fiske Stone (writing for the Court)

Justices Dissenting

None (Frank Murphy did not participate)


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

31 July 1942


The Supreme Court held that the president has the power to set up military courts in time of war, but that the decisions of these tribunals can be reviewed by civil courts.

Related Cases

  • Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2 (1866).
  • In re Debs, 158 U.S. 564 (1895).
  • United States v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 299 U.S. 304 (1936).

Further Readings

  • Belknap, Michael R. "The Supreme Court Goes to War: The Meaning and Implications of the Nazi Saboteur Case." Military Law Review, Vol. 89, 1980, pp. 59-95.
  • Fellman, David. The Defendant's Rights Today. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953