United States v. Cruikshank Et Al

The Case

ERROR TO the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Louisiana.

This was an indictment for conspiracy under the sixth section of the act of May 30, 1870, known as the Enforcement Act (16 Stat. 140), and consisted of thirty-two counts.

The first count was for banding, together, with intent "unlawfully and feloniously to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate" two citizens of the United States, "of African descent and persons of color," with the unlawful and felonious intent thereby" them "to hinder and prevent in their respective freeexercise and enjoyment of their lawful right and privilege to peaceably assemble together with each other and with other citizens of the said United States for a peaceable and lawful purpose."

The second avers an intent to hinder and prevent the exercise by the same persons of the "right to keep and bear arms for a lawful purpose."

The third avers an intent to deprive the same persons "of their respective several lives and liberty of person, without due process of law."

The fourth avers an intent to deprive the same persons of the "free exercise and enjoyment of the right and privilege to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property" enjoyed by white citizens.

The fifth avers an intent to hinder and prevent the same persons "in the exercise and enjoyment of the rights, privileges, immunities, and protection granted and secured to them respectively as citizens of the said United States, and as citizens of the said State of Louisiana, by reason of and for and on account of the race and color" of the said persons.

The sixth avers an intent to hinder and prevent the same persons in "the free exercise and enjoyment of the several and respective right and privilege to vote at any election to be thereafter by law had and held by the people in and of the said State of Louisiana."

The seventh avers an intent "to put in great fear of bodily harm, injure, and oppress" the same persons, "because and for the reason" that, having the right to vote, they had voted.

The eighth avers an intent "to prevent and hinder" the same persons "in their several and respective free exercise and enjoyment of every, each, all, and singular the several rights and privileges granted and secured" to them "by the constitution and laws of the United States."

The next eight counts are a repetition of the first eight, except that, instead of the words "band together," the words "combine, conspire, and confederate together" are used. Three of the defendants were found guilty under the first sixteen counts, and not guilty under the remaining counts.

The parties thus convicted moved in arrest of judgment on the following grounds:

1. Because the matters and things set forth and charged in the several counts, one to sixteen inclusive, do not constitute offences against the laws of the United States, and do not come within the purview, true intent, and meaning of the act of Congress, approved 31st May, 1870, entitled "An Act to enforce the right of citizens of the United States," &c.

2. Because the matters and things in the said indictment set forth and charged do not constitute offences cognizable in the Circuit Court, and do not come within its power and jurisdiction.

3. Because the offences created by the sixth section of the act of Congress referred to, and upon which section the aforesaid sixteen counts are based, are not constitutionally within the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States, and because the matters and things therein referred to are judicially cognizable by State tribunals only, and legislative action thereon is among the constitutionally reserved rights of the several States.

4. Because the said act, in so far as it creates offences and imposes penalties, is in violation of the Constitution of the United States, and an infringement of the rights of the several States and the people.

5. Because the eighth and sixteenth counts of the indictment are too vague, general, insufficient, and uncertain, to afford the accused proper notice to plead and prepare their defence, and set forth no specific offence under the law.

6. Because the verdict of the jury against the defendants is not warranted or supported by law.

On this motion the opinions of the judges were divided, that of the presiding judge being, that the several counts in question are not sufficient in law, and do not contain charges of criminal matter indictable under the laws of the United States; and that the motion in arrest of judgment should be granted. The case comes up at the instance of the United States, on certificate of this division of opinion.

Sect. 1 of the Enforcement Act declares, that all citizens of the United States, otherwise qualified, shall be allowed to vote at all elections, without distinction of race, color, or previous servitude.

Sect. 2 provides, that, if by the law of any State or Territory a prerequisite to voting, is necessary, equal opportunity for it shall be given to all, without distinction, &c.; and any person charged with the duty of furnishing the prerequisite, who refuses or knowingly omits to give full effect to this section, shall be guilty of misdemeanor.

Sect. 3 provides, that an offer of performance, in respect to the prerequisite, when proved by affidavit of the claimant, shall be equivalent to performance; and any judge or inspector of election who refuses to accept it shall be guilty, &c.

Sect. 4 provides, that any person who, by force, bribery, threats, intimidation, or other unlawful means, hinders, delays, prevents, or obstructs any citizen from qualifying himself to vote, or combines with others to do so, shall be guilty, &c.

Sect. 5 provides, that any person who prevents, hinders, controls, or intimidates any person from exercising the right of suffrage, to whom it is secured by the fifteenth amendment, or attempts to do so, by bribery or threats of violence, or deprivation of property or employment, shall be guilty, &c.

The sixth section is as follows: -

"That if two or more persons shall band or conspire together, or go in disguise upon the public highway, or upon the premises of another, with intent to violate any provisions of this act, or to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise and enjoyment of any right or privilege granted or secured to him by the constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having exercised the same, such persons shall be held guilty of felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be fined or imprisoned, or both, at the discretion of the court, - the fine not to exceed $5,000, and the imprisonment not to exceed ten years; and shall, moreover, be thereafter ineligible to, and disabled from holding, any office or place of honor, profit, or trust created by the constitution or laws of the United States."

This case was argued at the October Term, 1874, by Mr. Attorney-General Williams and Mr. Solicitor-General Phillips for the plaintiff in error; and by Mr. Reverdy Johnson, Mr. David Dudley Field, Mr. Philip Phillips, and Mr. R. H. Marr for the defendants in error.

United States v. Cruikshank Et Al

Presser v Illinois