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Mississippi v. Johnson

The Case Against Johnson And The Reconstruction Act

In their motion to the Court, attorneys W. L Sharkey and R. J. Walker attacked the bill's intent. "It annuls and abrogates the state government and state constitutions, and substitutes a mere military power." The federal government had already gotten into constitutional trouble using military authority in civil matters. In 1866, the Court ruled in Ex Parte Milligan that the government could not declare martial law in areas outside a war zone that had existing civil governments and courts. Mississippi was no longer at war with the federal government, and the state did have its own civil government in place.

Sharkey and Walker also asserted that the Supreme Court did have jurisdiction in this matter. "The Constitution is supreme; all officers are subordinate to the supreme law, and consequently subordinate to the command of the department [the Supreme Court] whose duty it is to enforce subordination by declaring the meaning, the extent, and the limitations of the Constitution."

Without mentioning it by name, the plaintiffs also brought up the precedent of Marbury v. Madison. In that famous 1803 decision, Chief Justice John Marshall had distinguished between a president's "ministerial" and "political" duties. The Court could compel the president to carry out a ministerial duty ordered by Congress. In this case, the plaintiffs argued, carrying out the Reconstruction Act was ministerial, and so fell under the Court's jurisdiction.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Mississippi v. Johnson - Significance, The Case Against Johnson And The Reconstruction Act, The Court Says No, Salmon Portland Chase