Siebold, Ex parte

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100 U.S. 371 (1880), argued 24 Oct. 1879, decided 8 Mar. 1880 by vote of 7 to 2; Bradley for the Court, Field and Clifford in dissent. Siebold, a Baltimore election judge, was convicted under the Enforcement Acts of 1870–1871 of ballot-box stuffing in a federal congressional election. The Enforcement Acts made it a federal crime for a state official to neglect his duties under state or federal law in a federal election.

Petitioning for a writ of habeas corpus, Siebold argued that, while the federal government was competent to make and enforce its own election laws, it could not adopt existing state laws by reference, far less prospectively adopt state laws not yet in existence, and that it could not punish state officials for neglect of a state duty. Justice Joseph P. Bradley and the majority rejected this invocation of dual sovereignty, holding that a violation of a mixed state and national duty was “an offense against the United States, for which the offender is justly amenable to that government” (p. 388). The Court, however, limited its spacious reading of national powers to federal congressional elections and disavowed federal power over purely state and local elections.

Only Justice Stephen J. Field, in his dissenting opinion, accepted Siebold's arguments. Field reasoned that the federal government had no power to impose duties on a state officer.

Ward E. Y. Elliott

Subjects: Law.

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