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Colonel William H. McCardle, C.S.A., carte de visite by Charles D. Fredricks, ca. 1867

In 1867 William H. McCardle, a Mississippi newspaper editor, criticized federal Reconstruction and urged whites to boycott an election for a state constitutional convention. He was imprisoned in Vicksburg under military arrest. McCardle’s habeas corpus appeal to the circuit court failed to win his release, so he appealed to the Supreme Court under the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867.

Warren County Old Court House Museum

Colonel William H. McCardle

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