Ableman v. Booth

62 U.S. 506 (1858)

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Ableman v. Booth

United States Supreme Court
62 U.S. 506 (1858)

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Facts

The Fugitive Slave Act was a federal law that made it a federal crime to help a slave escape, even in states that prohibited slavery. Joshua Glover escaped slavery in Missouri and made his way to Wisconsin, where he was captured and taken to jail. Sherman Booth (defendant), an abolitionist newspaper editor, rallied a large group to protest outside the jail. During the protest, people broke into the jail and helped Glover escape. With Glover gone, federal authorities arrested Booth and charged him with helping Glover escape in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act. Booth petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, seeking release from the custody of United States marshal Steven Ableman (plaintiff). The state court ruled that Booth’s imprisonment was illegal because the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional, and the court granted the writ. Ableman released Booth. Ableman then successfully petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, challenging the state court’s authority to order Booth’s release from federal custody. While that action was pending, a federal grand jury indicted Booth for the federal crime of helping Glover escape. A federal district court tried and convicted Booth, sentencing him to one month in prison and a $1,000 fine. Instead of appealing the conviction through the federal courts, Booth sought another writ of habeas corpus from the state courts. The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted the writ and stated that it was vacating Booth’s federal-court conviction. The United States attorney general (plaintiff) appealed the state court’s order to the United States Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court issued the writ of error, asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to provide documents for the appeal. The state court refused, claiming the United States Supreme Court lacked authority to interfere with a state’s rights by reviewing a state supreme court’s decision. The United States Supreme Court combined Ableman’s petition with the attorney general’s appeal and considered the issues.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Taney, C.J.)

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