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RASSMUSSEN v. UNITED STATES

April 10, 1905

RASSMUSSEN
v.
UNITED STATES



ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF ALASKA

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: White

[ 197 U.S. Page 518]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

The plaintiff in error was indicted for violating section 127 of the Alaska Code, prohibiting the keeping of a disreputable house and punishing the offense by a fine or imprisonment in the county jail.

As stated in the bill of exceptions, when the case was called

[ 197 U.S. Page 519]

     the court announced "that the cause would be tried before a jury composed of six jurors," in accordance with section 171 of the Code for Alaska adopted by Congress, wherein; among other things, it was provided as follows (31 Stat. 321, 359): "That hereafter in trials for misdemeanors six persons shall constitute a legal jury." To this announcement by the court an exception was duly preserved. A jury of six persons was then empanelled, when the objection was renewed and a demand made for a common law jury, which was refused, and an exception was again taken.

To a verdict and judgment of conviction this writ is prosecuted directly to this court, reliance for a reversal being had on the violation of the Constitution alleged to have resulted from the trial of the case by a jury of six persons and upon other errors of law which, it is asserted, the court committed in the course of the trial.

At the threshold of the case lies the constitutional question whether Congress had power to deprive one accused in Alaska of a misdemeanor of trial by a common law jury, that is to say, whether the provision of the act of Congress in question was repugnant to the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

At the bar the Government did not deny that offenses of the character of the one here prosecuted could only be tried by a common law jury, if the Sixth Amendment governed. The Government, moreover, did not dispute the obvious and fundamental truth that the Constitution of the United States is dominant where applicable. The validity of the provision in question is therefore sought to be sustained upon the proposition that the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution did not apply to Congress in legislating for Alaska. And this rests upon two contentions which we proceed separately to consider.

1. Alaska was not incorporated into the United States, and therefore the Sixth Amendment did not control Congress in legislating for Alaska.

[ 197 U.S. Page 520]

     If the premise, that is, the status of Alaska, be conceded, the conclusion deduced from it is established by the previous rulings of this court. In Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138, the question was whether the Sixth Amendment was controlling upon Congress in legislating for the Philippine Islands. Applying the principles which caused a majority of the judges who concurred in Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, to think that the uniformity clause of the Constitution was inapplicable to Porto Rico, and following the ruling announced in Hawaii v. Mankichi, 190 U.S. 197, it was decided that, whilst by the treaty with Spain the Philippine Islands had come under the sovereignty of the United States and were subject to its control as a dependency or possession, those Islands had not been incorporated into the United States as a part thereof, and therefore Congress, in legislating concerning them, was subject only to the provisions of the Constitution applicable to territory occupying that relation. The power to acquire territory without incorporating it into the United States as an integral part thereof, as we have said, was sustained upon the reasoning expounded in the opinion of three, if not of four, of the judges who concurred in the judgment in Downes v. Bidwell, that reasoning being in effect adopted in the Dorr case as the basis of the ruling there made, the court saying (p. 143:)

"Until Congress shall see fit to incorporate territory ceded by treaty into the United States, we regard it as settled by that decision (Downes v. Bidwell) that the territory is to be governed under the power existing in Congress to make laws for such territories and subject to such constitutional restrictions upon the powers of that body as are applicable to the situation."

And in view of the status of the Philippine Islands it was decided that the Sixth Amendment was not applicable to those Islands, and therefore Congress, when it legislated concerning them, was not controlled by the provisions of that Amendment. It would serve no useful purpose to reexpress the reasons supporting this conclusion, and we content ourselves with quoting

[ 197 U.S. Page 521]

     the summing up made by the court in the opinion in the Dorr case, as follows (p. 149):

"We conclude that the power to govern territory, implied in the right to acquire it, and given to Congress in the Constitution in Article IV, ยง 3, to whatever other limitations it may be subject, the extent of which must be decided as questions arise, does not require that body to enact for ceded territory, not made a part of the United States by Congressional action, a system of laws which shall include the right of trial by jury, and that the Constitution does not, without legislation and of its own force, carry such right to territory so situated."

We are brought then to determine whether Alaska has been incorporated into the United States as a part thereof, or is simply held, as the Philippine Islands are held, under the sovereignty of the United States as a possession or dependency.

Concerning the test to be applied to determine whether in a particular case acquired territory has been incorporated into and forms a part of the United States, we do not deem it necessary to review the general subject, again contenting ourselves by quoting a brief passage from the opinion in Dorr v. United States, summing up the reasons which controlled in determining that the Philippine Islands were not incorporated, viz. (p. 143):

"If the treaty-making power could incorporate territory into the United States without Congressional action, it is apparent that the treaty with Spain, ceding the Philippines to the United States, carefully refrained from so doing; for it is expressly provided that (Article IX) 'the civil rights and political status of the native inhabitants of the territories hereby ceded to the United States shall be determined by the Congress.' In this language it is clear that it was the intention of the framers of the treaty to reserve to Congress, so far as it could be constitutionally done, a free hand in dealing with these newly-acquired possessions.

"The legislation upon the subject shows that not only has Congress hitherto refrained from incorporating the Philippines

[ 197 U.S. Page 522]

     into the United States, but in the act of 1902, providing for temporary civil government, 32 Stat. 691, there is express provision that section eighteen hundred and ninety-one of the Revised Statutes of 1878 shall not apply to the Philippine Islands."

This brings us to consider the treaty by which Alaska was acquired and the action of Congress concerning that acquisition, for the purpose of ascertaining whether within the criteria referred to in Downes v. Bidwell and adopted and applied in Dorr v. United States, Alaska was incorporated into the United States.

The treaty concerning Alaska, instead of exhibiting, as did the treaty respecting the Philippine Islands, the determination to reserve the question of the status of the acquired territory for ulterior action by Congress, manifested a contrary intention, since it is therein expressly declared, in Article 3, that:

"The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be admitted to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States; and shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and religion."

This declaration, although somewhat changed in phraseology, is the equivalent, as pointed out in Downes v. Bidwell, of the formula employed from the beginning to express the purpose to incorporate acquired territory into the United States, especially in the absence of other provisions showing an intention to the contrary. And it was doubtless this fact conjoined with the subsequent legislation of Congress which led to the following statement concerning Alaska made in the opinion of three, if not four, of the judges who concurred in the judgment of affirmance in Downes v. Bidwell (p. 335):

"Without referring in detail to the acquisition from Russia of Alaska, it suffices to say that that treaty also contained provisions for incorporation and was acted upon exactly in accord with the practical construction applied in ...


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