When a newspaper editor in the antebellum South was arrested for writing articles critical of the post-Civil War Reconstruction, he set in motion a chain of events that would lead to one of the key historic cases on the separation of powers.
William McCardle sought a writ of habeas corpus to challenge his arrest. When the writ was denied, McCardle petitioned for review by the United States Supreme Court, which had appellate jurisdiction over such cases under an 1867 congressional statute. Appellate jurisdiction refers to the power of a court to hear appeals from decisions of lower courts.
While McCardle’s case was pending, Congress repealed the 1867 statute and stripped the Supreme Court of appellate review. The Supreme Court ultimately concluded that Congress had acted within its authority under the Exceptions Clause of Article III. The Exceptions Clause granted the Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction subject to “such exceptions and under such regulations as Congress shall make.”
As such, Congress had the right to withdraw appellate jurisdiction conferred on the Supreme Court. Thus, the Court determined that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case, and McCardle was left without a means of challenging his imprisonment.
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