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An Act to amend “An Act to amend the judiciary act . . . (Habeas Corpus Act of 1868), March 27, 1868

When William H. McCardle used the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867 to challenge his imprisonment, members of Congress feared his case could test the legality of Reconstruction. While the Supreme Court considered McCardle’s arguments, Congress amended the 1867 act to repeal the court’s habeas corpus power. The court recognized Congress’s authority to limit its jurisdiction and dismissed McCardle’s appeal.

General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

An Act to amend “An Act to amend the judiciary act An Act to amend “An Act to amend the judiciary act

Congress Limits the Supreme Court’s Jurisdiction

A tool of the judiciary to check the powers of the executive, a writ of habeas corpus is a court order challenging the legality of a prisoner’s detention. The Judiciary Act of 1789 empowered the Supreme Court to hear habeas corpus petitions of federal prisoners and Congress expanded that jurisdiction in 1867. In 1868, when a military prisoner challenged his arrest for criticizing Reconstruction policies, Congress limited the Supreme Court’s authority, fearing the ruling’s impact on Reconstruction. The court recognized Congress’s power to limit its appellate jurisdiction in Ex parte McCardle.

The supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction . . . with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 2