Hudson & Goodwin, United States v.

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William Johnson (1804—1834)

seditious Libel

Thomas Jefferson (1743—1826) revolutionary politician and president of the United States of America

John Marshall (1755—1835)

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7 Cranch (11 U.S.) 32 (1812), submitted without oral argument, decided 13 Feb. or 14 March 1812 by unknown vote. In this case the Supreme Court put an end to a decade-long dispute between Republicans and Federalists by denying the existence of a federal common law of crimes. That ruling remains good law today.

Barzillai Hudson and his codefendant George Goodwin were indicted in federal court in 1806 and 1807 for common-law seditious libel, for publishing a report that President Thomas Jefferson had conspired with Napoleon Bonaparte. Federal courts had for some time been upholding common-law convictions, but Republicans—who had won both the Congress and the presidency for the first time in 1800—had long insisted that federal courts had no constitutional power to create or enforce common-law crimes. The dispute over the common law of crimes had its roots in the most fundamental disagreement between Republicans and Federalists: Republicans generally denied that any branch of the federal government had any power not explicitly granted by the Constitution.

By 1812, when the Hudson case reached the Supreme Court, Republican appointees comprised a majority. The Court dismissed the indictments, holding that no federal court could exercise common law jurisdiction in criminal cases. The majority opinion, authored by Justice William Johnson, rested on the Republican principle that federal courts derive their powers solely from the Constitution and the Congress and have no residual jurisdiction. No dissents are recorded, but it is probable that Chief Justice John Marshall and Justices Bushrod Washington and Joseph Story dissented.

Suzanna Sherry

Subjects: Law.

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