Muskrat v. United States

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219 U.S. 346 (1911), argued 30 Nov.–2 Dec. 1910, decided 23 Jan. 1911 by vote of 7 to 0; Day for the Court; Van Devanter and Lamar not participating. On 1 March 1907, Congress passed legislation providing that certain named Cherokee Indians, including David Muskrat, were permitted to bring suit against the United States in the Court of Claims, with an appeal to the Supreme Court, to test the constitutionality of previous acts of Congress regulating the lands possessed by the Cherokees. Congress also directed the attorney general to represent the United States in the litigation, and provided that counsel for the Cherokees authorized to initiate the litigation should be paid by the U.S. Treasury.

When litigation reached the Supreme Court, it became obvious that under Article III of the Constitution the judicial power of the United States courts, including the Supreme Court, could only be exercised in the decision of cases and controversies brought to the courts for resolution. The cases and controversies requirement of Article III, the Court noted, had from almost the beginning of the republic been thought to impose limitations upon the exercise of judicial power by the federal courts. The 1907 act of Congress, the Court held, had created a friendly suit, lacking any adverse clash of legal interests between two parties, which a real case or controversy required. The Muskrat case was thus not within the Court's legitimate jurisdiction under Article III and was therefore dismissed. Muskrat v. United States remains a classic example of the limitations imposed by the cases and controversies requirement upon the exercise of federal judicial power.

Richard C. Cortner

Subjects: Law.

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