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Ex parte Grossman

Significance

The Supreme Court affirmed the president's power to grant reprieves and pardons for all offenses.

Philip Grossman was found guilty by the district court of having disobeyed a temporary injunction, issued under the National Prohibition Enforcement Act, forbidding illicit trafficking in liquors on certain premises. He was sentenced by the district court to pay a fine and to imprisonment for one year in the Chicago House of Corrections--a judgment which was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals.

The president issued a pardon commuting the sentence to the fine, with the condition that the fine be paid, which Grossman did. Having been thereupon released from custody, Grossman was again committed by district court, upon the grounds that the pardon was ineffectual. He then sought a writ of habeas corpus, directed to Graham, the Superintendent of the House of Corrections.

Chief Justice Taft delivered the opinion of the Court, rebutting the respondent's argument that stated that the president's power extended only to offenses against the United States and that contempt of court was not such an offense. Criminal contempt, on the contrary, in relation to the prohibition law is an "offense against the United States," and pardonable by the president. "Offenses against the United States," in the pardon clause, include criminal contempts, and accord with ordinary meanings of the words and are not inconsistent with other parts of the Constitution where the term "offense" and the narrower terms "crimes" and "criminal prosecutions" appear. The contention that to admit the power of the president to pardon criminal contempts would erode the independence of the judiciary and would violate the principle of separation of the three departments of the government, was considered and rejected.

Soon after Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1933, Prohibition ended when the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed by the Twenty-first, the only instance of a constitutional amendment directly nullifying a previous one.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Ex parte Grossman - Significance, Related Cases