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Letter from William H. McCardle to his son, November 29, 1891

In an 1891 letter to his son, William H. McCardle reflected on the landmark case. “The case was argued on my account by three of the ablest lawyers that ever appeared before the Supreme Court,” he recalled. He explained that congressional Republicans “smuggled through” a bill to deprive the Supreme Court of its power to deliver its opinion.

Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Letter from William H. McCardle to his son Letter from William H. McCardle to his son Letter from William H. McCardle to his son

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