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Ex Parte McCardle: 1868

Congress Denies Mccardle Access To Supreme Court, Congress Could Not Be Denied

Defendant: William H. McCardle
Crimes Charged: Inciting insurrection and impeding post-Civil Was Reconstruction
Chief Defense Lawyers: Jeremiah S. Black, David Dudley Field, Charles O'Conor, W. L. Sharkey, and Robert J. Walker
Chief Prosecutors: Mathew H. Carpenter and Lyman Trumbull
Justices: Salmon P. Chase, Nathan Clifford, David Davis, Robert Cooper Grier, Stephen, J. Field, Samuel F. Miller, Samuel Nelson, and Noah H. Swayne.
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Decision: 1868 December Term
Decision: That the Supreme Court was without jurisdiction to render a decision, because Congress had repealed certain appeals legislation

SIGNIFICANCE: For the first and only time in American history, Congress exercised its authority to prevent the Supreme Court from hearing certain types of politically sensitive cases.

After the Civil War, the victorious Union army occupied the defeated Confederacy and the period known as Reconstruction began. On March 2, 1867, Congress passed a law entitled "An Act to Provide for the More Efficient Government of the Rebel States," which officially provided for the military administration of the South. The act abolished the legal existence of the Southern states, and divided the Confederacy into a series of military districts, each commanded by a General who possessed extensive powers to suppress any act of defiance.

In the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, public resentment against the Union was particularly high. The city was strategically located on the Mississippi River and had fallen to the Union after a long and bloody siege by General Ulysses S. Grant. After the Civil War, the Fourth of July was not celebrated in Vicksburg for 75 years.

William H. McCardle was the editor of a local newspaper, the Vicksburg Times. McCardle published various articles criticizing Reconstruction in general and Major General Edward O.C. Ord in particular. Ord was the Commanding General of the Fourth Military District, which included Vicksburg. General Ord was not amused. He had McCardle arrested in November 1867 for various offenses relating to inciting insurrection and impeding Reconstruction. On November 11, 1867, McCardle sent a petition to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Mississippi, asking for a writ of habeas corpus, meaning a court order to free McCardle from illegal imprisonment. The circuit court refused McCardle's request, and McCardle appealed to the Supreme Court.

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