United States v. Shipp

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United States v. Shipp
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued December 4–5, 1906
Decided December 24, 1906
Full case name United States v. John F. Shipp, et al.
Citations 203 U.S. 563 (more)
27 S.Ct. 165
Holding
That it was not a party in any sense that would create a conflict of interest, in that members of the court were not affected by Shipp's actions in any way in their persons and thus they were not "interested parties" in any sense which would affect their competence with regard to the case.
Court membership
Moody took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

United States v. Shipp, 203 U.S. 563,[1] was a ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States with regard to events surrounding a lynching in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is, to this day, the only Supreme Court criminal trial in its history.

Background[edit]

Ed Johnson, a black man, had been convicted in Hamilton County, Tennessee of the rape of a white woman on February 11, 1906 and sentenced to death. On March 3, 1906, Johnson filed a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that his constitutional rights had been violated. Specifically, he alleged that all blacks had been systematically excluded from both the grand jury considering the original indictment against him and the trial jury considering his case. He further argued that he had been substantively denied the right to counsel, as his lawyer had been too intimidated by the threats of mob violence to file motions for a change of venue, a continuance, or a new trial, all of which could be reasonably expected under the circumstances, meaning that he (Johnson) was, in effect, about to be deprived of his life without due process.

Johnson's petition was initially denied on March 10, 1906, and he was remanded to the custody of Hamilton County Sheriff Joseph F. Shipp, with the stipulation that Johnson be given 10 days to file further appeals.[2] His appeal to the Supreme Court was granted by Justice Harlan on March 17, and subsequently by the entire court on March 19. However, despite being advised of this ruling by telegram on that date, and the case and the ruling being given full coverage by Chattanooga's evening newspapers that day, the case purported that Shipp and his chief jailer nonetheless allowed a mob to enter the Hamilton County jail and lynch Johnson on the city's Walnut Street Bridge.

The court felt that this action constituted contempt of court in that Sheriff Shipp, fully knowledgeable of the court's ruling, nonetheless chose willfully to ignore his duties to protect a prisoner in his care.

Argument[edit]

Shipp's actions resulted in his prosecution by the United States Department of Justice. Included as defendants were his chief jailer and such members of the lynch mob as could be reasonably identified. When the case came to the Supreme Court, the government was represented by both United States Solicitor General Henry Hoyt and Attorney General William H. Moody. Shipp's attorneys argued that the Supreme Court was not competent to hear the case, as it was now a party to the case in that it was involved in the action as a plaintiff rather than as a court.

Holding[edit]

In a unanimous decision written by Justice Holmes, the court held that it was not a party in any sense that would create a conflict of interest, in that members of the court were not affected by Shipp's actions in any way in their persons (Shipp's actions were not a threat to the justices personally but only to their ruling and hence to the authority of the court) and thus they were not "interested parties" in any sense which would affect their competence with regard to the case. The prosecution of Shipp was allowed to proceed.

Impact[edit]

The case took on special significance as the only criminal trial of the Supreme Court in its entire history. The main impact of the case was its reiteration of the principle that the Supreme Court could always intervene in state capital cases where there was a question of violation of the right to due process contained in the United States Constitution.

Shipp and several—though not all—of his co-defendants were convicted by the Court and sentenced to terms from 2–3 months in federal prison in Washington, DC. The sentences were shortened for good behavior.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ U.S. v. Shipp, 203 U.S. 563 (1906). See also "U.S. v. Shipp," 214 U.S. 386 (1909).
  2. ^ Chattanooga Times Article on Shipp Case

Further reading[edit]

  • Stern, M. (1947). "Contempt Liability for Disobedience of Defective Court Order". Brooklyn Law Review 13: 166. 
  • Curridan, Mark; Phillips, Leroy (2001). Contempt of Court: The Turn of the Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism. Garden City: Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-72082-3. 

External links[edit]