Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346; 31 S. Ct. 250; 55 L. Ed. 246 (1911)

Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346; 31 S. Ct. 250; 55 L. Ed. 246 (1911)

Facts—An act of Congress authorized Muskrat and others to bring suit in the federal Court of Claims, with an appeal to the federal Supreme Court to determine the validity of certain acts of Congress that altered terms of certain prior allotments of Cherokee Indian lands.

Question—Can the Supreme Court judge the validity of an act of Congress as an abstract question rather than as an actual controversy or case?


ReasonsJ. Day (7–0). Congress is attempting to have the Court pass upon the validity of laws before they are properly brought to the Court. Federal judicial power extends only to “cases” and “controversies,” defined by Marshall as suits “instituted according to the regular course of judicial pro- cedure.” This matter is not presented in such a “case” or “controversy.” “The whole purpose of the law is to determine the constitutional validity of this class of legislation, in a suit not arising between parties concerning a property right necessarily involved in the decision in question, but in a proceeding against the government in its sovereign capacity, and concerning which the only judgment required is to settle the doubtful character of the legislation in question. If such actions as are here attempted, to determine the validity of legislation, are sustained, the result will be that this court, instead of keeping within limits of judicial power, and deciding cases or controversies arising between opposing parties, as the Constitution intended it should, will be required to give opinions in the nature of advice concerning legislative action,—a function never conferred upon it by the Constitution.”

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