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MINNESOTA v. HITCHCOCK

May 5, 1902

MINNESOTA
v.
HITCHCOCK



ORIGINAL

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, Shiras, Jr., White, Peckham, McKenna; Mr. Justice Gray took no part in the decision of this case.

Author: Brewer

[ 185 U.S. Page 382]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.

A preliminary question is one of jurisdiction. It is true counsel for defendants did not raise the question, and evidently both parties desire that the court should ignore it and dispose of the case on the merits. But the silence of counsel does not waive the question, nor would the express consent of the parties give to this court a jurisdiction which was not warranted by the Constitution and laws. It is the duty of every court of its own motion to inquire into the matter irrespective of the wishes of the parties, and be careful that it exercises no powers save those conferred by law. Consent may waive an objection so far as respects the person, but it cannot invest a court with a jurisdiction which it does not by law possess over the subject matter. The question having been suggested by the court, a brief has been presented, and our jurisdiction sought to be sustained on several grounds. The question is one of the original and not of the appellate jurisdiction. The pertinent constitutional provisions are found in section 2 of article III, as follows:

"The judicial power shall extend to all cases in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority; to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States shall be a party; to controversies between two or more States; between a State and citizens of another State; between citizens of different States; between citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different States, and between a State or the citizens thereof and foreign States, citizens or subjects.

"In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers

[ 185 U.S. Page 383]

     and consuls, and those in which a State shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions and under such regulations as the Congress shall make."

The first of these paragraphs defines the matters to which the judicial power of the United States extends, and the second divides the original and appellate jurisdiction of this court. By the latter paragraph this court is given original jurisdiction of those cases "in which a State shall be a party." This paragraph, distributing the original and appellate jurisdiction of this court, is not to be taken as enlarging the judicial power of the United States or adding to the cases or matters to which by the first paragraph the judicial power is declared to extend. The question is, therefore, not finally settled by the fact that the State of Minnesota is a party to this litigation. It must also appear that the case is one to which by the first paragraph the judicial power of the United States extends. There are three clauses in the first paragraph which call for notice; one, that which extends the judicial power of the United States to controversies "between a State and citizens of another State;" second, that which extends it "to all cases in law and equity arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;" and, third, that which extends it to controversies "to which the United States shall be a party." To bring the case within the first clause referred to, the bill alleges that the defendant, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Secretary of the Interior, is a citizen of Missouri, and the defendant, Binger Herman, Commissioner of the General Land Office, a citizen of Oregon, and therefore it is said the case comes strictly within the language of the first paragraph in that there is presented a controversy between a State, Minnesota, and citizens of other States. To that it may be replied that there is no real controversy between the State, the plaintiff, and the defendants as individuals; that the latter, merely as citizens, have no interest in the controversy for or against the plaintiff; that in case either of the defendants should die or resign and a citizen of Minnesota be

[ 185 U.S. Page 384]

     appointed in his place, the jurisdiction of the court would cease, and this although the real parties in interest remain the same. In respect to the second it may be said that if it were held that this court had original jurisdiction of every case of a justiciable nature in which a State was a party and in which was presented some question arising under the Constitution, laws of the United States, or treaties made under their authority, many cases, both of a legal and an equitable nature, in respect to which Congress has provided no suitable procedure, would be brought within its cognizance. To this it may be replied that this court cannot deny its jurisdiction in a case to which it is extended by the Constitution. As to the third, it may be objected that the United States is not in terms a party to the litigation and has no pecuniary interest in the controversy, it being in reality one between the State and the Indians.

We omit, as unnecessary to the disposition of this case, any consideration of the applicability of the first two clauses, because we think the case comes within the scope of the third clause, and we need not now go further. This is a controversy to which the United States may be regarded as a party. It is one, therefore, to which the judicial power of the United States extends. It is, of course, under that clause a matter of indifference whether the United States is a party plaintiff or defendant. It could not fairly be adjudged that the judicial power of the United States extends to those cases in which the United States is a party plaintiff and does not extend to those cases in which it is a party defendant.

The case of United States v. Texas, 143 U.S. 621, is in point, and upon many aspects of the question very suggestive. That was a suit brought by the United States against the State of Texas to determine the title to a tract, called the county of Greer, which was claimed by the State to be within its limits and a part of its territory, and by the United States to be outside the State of Texas and belonging to the United States. The jurisdiction of this court was challenged, but was sustained. After referring to the provisions of the Constitution and the judiciary act of 1789, Mr. Justice Harlan, speaking for the court, said:

[ 185 U.S. Page 385]

     "The words in the Constitution, 'in all cases . . . in which a State shall be a party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction,' necessarily refer to all cases mentioned in the preceding clause in which a State may be made, of right, a party defendant, or in which a State may, of right, be a party plaintiff.

"It is, however, said that the words last quoted refer only to suits in which a State is a party, and in which, also, the opposite party is another State of the Union or a foreign State. This cannot be correct, for it must be conceded that a State can bring an original suit in this court against a citizen of another State. Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co., 127 U.S. 265, 287. Besides, unless a State is exempt altogether from suit by the United States, we do not perceive upon what sound rule of construction suits brought by the United States in this court -- especially if they be suits the correct decision of which depends upon the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States -- are to be excluded from its original jurisdiction as defined by the Constitution. That instrument extends the judicial power of the United States 'to all cases,' in law and equity, arising under the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States, and to controversies in which the United States shall be a party, and confers upon this court original jurisdiction 'in all cases' 'in which a State shall be party,' that is, in all cases mentioned in the preceding clause in which a State may, of right, be made a party defendant, as well as in all cases in which a State may, of right, institute a suit in a court of the United States. The present case is of the former class. We cannot assume that the framers of the Constitution, while extending the judicial power of the United States to controversies between two or more States of the Union, and between a State of the Union and foreign States, intended to exempt a State altogether from suit by the General Government. They could not have overlooked the possibility that controversies, capable of judicial solution, might arise between the United States and some of the States, and that the permanence of the Union might be endangered if to some tribunal was not entrusted the power to determine

[ 185 U.S. Page 386]

     them according to the recognized principles of law. And to what tribunal could a trust so momentous be more appropriately committed than to that which the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice and insure domestic tranquillity, have constituted with authority to speak for all the people and all the States, upon questions before it to which the judicial power of the nation extends? It would be difficult to suggest any reason why this court should have jurisdiction to determine questions of boundary between two or more States, but not jurisdiction of controversies of like character between the United States and a State." (p. 643.)

While the United States as a government may not be sued without its consent, yet with its consent it may be sued, and the judicial power of the United States extends to such a controversy. Indeed, the whole jurisdiction of the Court of Claims rests upon this proposition.

It may be said that the United States is not named as defendant, and therefore it cannot be considered a party to the controversy. It is true that it was at one time held that the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which provides that "the judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another State, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign State," was applicable only to cases in which the State was named in the record as a party defendant. Osborn v. United States Bank, 9 Wheat. 738. But later rulings have modified that decision, and held that the amendment applies to any suit brought in name against an officer of the State, when "the State, though not named, is the real party against which the relief is asked, and the judgment will operate." In re Ayers, 123 U.S. 443. Of course, this statement has no reference to and does not include those cases in which officers of the United States are sued, in appropriate form, to compel them to perform some ministerial duty imposed upon them by law, and which they wrongfully neglect or refuse to perform. Such suits would not be deemed suits against the United States within the rule that the Government cannot be sued except by its consent, nor within the rule established in the Ayers case.

[ 185 U.S. Page 387]

     Now, the legal title to these lands is in the United States. The officers named as defendants have no interest in the lands or the proceeds thereof. The United States is proposing to sell them. This suit seeks to restrain the United States from such sale, to divest the Government of its title and vest it in the State. The United States is, therefore, the real party affected by the judgment and against which in fact it will operate, and the officers have no pecuniary interest in the matter. If whether a suit is one against a State is to be determined, not by the fact of the party named as defendant on the record, but by the result of the judgment or decree which may be entered, the same rule must apply to the United States. The question whether the United States is a party to a controversy is not determined by the merely nominal party on the record but by the question of the effect of the judgment or decree which can be entered.

But, it may be said, that the United States has no substantial interest in the lands; that it holds the legal title under a contract with the Indians and in trust for their benefit. This is undoubtedly true, and if the case stood alone upon the construction of the treaty between the United States and the Indians there might be substantial force in this suggestion. But Congress has, for the Government, assumed a personal responsibility. On March 2, 1901, it passed the following act:

" Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in any suit heretofore or hereafter instituted in the Supreme Court of the United States to determine the right of a State to what are commonly known as school lands within any Indian reservation or any Indian cession where an Indian tribe claims any right to or interest in the lands in controversy, or in the disposition thereof by the United States, the right of such State may be fully tested and determined without making the Indian tribe, or any portion thereof, a party to the suit, if the Secretary of the Interior is made a party thereto; and the duty of representing and defending the right or interest of the Indian tribe, or any portion thereof, in the matter shall devolve upon the Attorney General upon the request of such Secretary." 31 Stat. 950.

[ 185 U.S. Page 388]

     It has by this legislation in effect declared that the Indians, although the real parties in interest, need not be made parties to the suit; that the United States will, for the purposes of the litigation, stand as the real party in interest, and so far as it could within constitutional limits has expressed the consent of the Government to the maintenance of this suit in this court. By the act it, in effect, declares that it waives all objections on the ground that it is a mere trustee; that it assumes the full responsibilities of ownership, and that it will, whatever may be the outcome of any litigation, stand responsible to the Indians for the full value of the lands in controversy. Can the court say that the United States may not assume such responsibility; may not waive all objections on account of the mere matter of trusteeship, and stand in court as the responsible owner, against whom all litigation may be directed? If it stands as such owner, then within the proposition heretofore referred to a suit which is against its agents, not affecting them individually, but affecting only its title to the real estate, is in substance and effect a suit against the United States. The controversy is made by the act of 1901 one to which the United States is a party in interest, to be directly affected by the result, and, therefore, the case is within the first paragraph, as one to which the judicial power of the United States extends.

Our conclusion, therefore, is that the original jurisdiction vested by the Constitution in this court over controversies in which a State is a party is not affected by the question whether the State is party plaintiff or party defendant; that a dispute as to the title to real estate is a question of a justiciable nature, and can properly be determined in a judicial proceeding; and that the United States is to be taken, for the purposes of this case, as the real party in interest adverse to the State. We are of ...


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