Muskrat v. United States – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346, 31 S. Ct. 250, 55 L. Ed. 246 (1911).
Congress passed an act that conferred original jurisdiction the Court of Claims and appellate jurisdiction on the Supreme Court to determine the validity of certain acts of Congress (i.e. to issue advisory opinions). The Congressional acts related to the distribution and allotment of lands and funds to members of the Cherokee Indian tribe.
Muskrat and the other plaintiffs in this case brought suit in the Court of Claims seeking a declaration that Congressional acts of 1904 and 1906 were unconstitutional, and that an earlier (and more favorable) act of July 1902 was controlling. The Court of Claims sustained the validity of the acts of 1904 and 1906 and dismissed the petitions and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
- What is the scope of the “judicial power” conferred by the Constitution upon the Supreme Court?
- May Congress expand the jurisdiction of the federal courts by empowering them to issue advisory opinions?
Holding and Rule (Day)
- The judicial power is limited to “cases and controversies”, i.e. the claims of litigants brought before the courts for the protection or enforcement of rights, or the prevention, redress, or punishment of wrongs.
- No. Congress may not expand the jurisdiction of the judiciary by empowering it to issue advisory opinions.
As per Marbury v. Madison, neither the legislative nor the executive branch can assign to the judicial branch any duties other than those that are properly judicial and to be performed in a judicial manner. Under the Constitution, judicial power is limited to cases and controversies. A case or controversy implies the existence of present or possible adverse parties whose contentions are submitted to the court for adjudication.
Congress does not have the power to provide for a suit of this nature to be brought in federal court to test the constitutionality of prior acts of Congress because such a suit is not a case or controversy. This court has no veto power over legislation enacted by Congress, and its right to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional can only be exercised when a proper case between opposing parties is submitted for determination.
Reversed and remanded with orders to dismiss to lack of jurisdiction.
Notes: Nothing in the United States Constitution prohibits state courts from issuing advisory opinions and some states engage in the practice.
A fair amount of Supreme Court jurisprudence has arguably been unkind to the indigenous peoples within United States territory.