Puerto Rico v. Branstad

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Puerto Rico v. Branstad
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 30, 1987
Decided June 23, 1987
Full case name Puerto Rico v. Terry Branstad, Governor of Iowa, et al.
Citations 483 U.S. 219 (more)
107 S. Ct. 2802; 97 L. Ed. 2d 187; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 2873; 55 U.S.L.W. 4975
Prior history Dismissed, S.D. Iowa; affirmed, 8th Cir.; cert. granted, 479 U.S. 811 (1986)
Federal courts have the power to enforce extraditions under the Extradition Clause.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Marshall, joined by Rehnquist, Brennan, White, Blackmun, Stevens; Powell, O'Connor (parts I, II-A, II-C, III); Scalia (in part and in judgment)
Concurrence O'Connor, joined by Powell
Concurrence Scalia
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. IV § 2
Extradition Act 18 U.S.C. § 3182
This case overturned a previous ruling or rulings
Kentucky v. Dennison (1861)

Puerto Rico v. Branstad, 483 U.S. 219 (1987), was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that ruled unanimously that Federal Courts have the power to enforce extraditions based on the Extradition Clause of Article Four of the United States Constitution. The decision overruled a prior decision in Kentucky v. Dennison, 24 How. 66 (1861), which had rendered federal courts powerless to order governors of the different states to fulfill their obligations under the Extradition Clause.


Prior law[edit]

The Constitution of the United States contains in Article IV, Section 2, a clause that reads:

A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.

Congress also legislated the Extradition Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3182, which effectively read the same as the Extradition Clause except that it also included Territories, Districts, and States.

The Supreme Court previously held in Kentucky v. Dennison (1861)—issued shortly before the Civil War—that the federal courts may not, through the issue of writs of mandamus, compel state governors to surrender fugitives.

Puerto Rico's request[edit]

In 1981, Iowa native Ronald Calder struck a married couple with his automobile near Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The husband survived the attack but the wife, who was eight months pregnant, did not. Witnesses testified that Calder, after striking the couple, backed his car two or three times over the victim's body.

Following these events, Calder was arrested and charged with first-degree homicide by Puerto Rican authorities, and was released after paying $5,000 bail. However, Calder did not appear at two preliminary hearings that were scheduled in the Puerto Rico District Courts, after which he was declared a fugitive of justice. Puerto Rican authorities notified the police in Iowa, having suspicions that he might have fled to his home state. On April 1981, Calder surrendered to the police in Polk County, Iowa, but was released after posting $20,000 bail set by an Iowa District Court magistrate.

In May 1981, Governor of Puerto Rico Carlos Romero Barceló submitted to the Governor of Iowa, Robert D. Ray, a request for extradition. The request for extradition was referred to an extradition hearing, where Calder's counsel testified that "a white American man could not receive a fair trial in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico." Attempts were made to negotiate a reduction in charges against Calder, but these were unsuccessful. In December 1981, Governor Ray wrote to Governor Barceló that, in the absence of a "change to a more realistic charge", the request for extradition was denied. A subsequent extradition request made to Governor Ray's successor in office, Governor Terry Branstad, was also denied.

In February 1984, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa that would order Governor Branstad to proceed with the extradition of Calder. Governor Branstad argued that the Extradition Clause did not apply to Puerto Rico because the island was not a State of the United States. Furthermore, he claimed Puerto Rico could not invoke the Extradition Act because the Federal courts, under Kentucky v. Dennison, did not have the power to order Governors to follow the Extradition Clause or Act. The District Court agreed and dismissed the case. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Supreme Court decision[edit]

Justice Marshall delivered the Court's opinion which concluded that the precedent established by Kentucky v. Dennison "is the product of another time. The conception of the relation between the States and the Federal Government there announced is fundamentally incompatible with more than a century of constitutional development." It therefore established that federal courts do have the power to enforce both the Extradition Clause and the Extradition Act through writs of mandamus.

One point that arose during oral argument was whether the Extradition Clause applied to Puerto Rico, since it is not a State of the Union. Although Justice Marshall, joined by five other Justices, analyzed Puerto Rico's current political condition as one that gives Puerto Rico certain rights comparable to those of the fifty states, in the end he applied the Extradition Act, which clearly includes the territories of the United States. Justice O'Connor made note of this fact in her concurrence and did not join the opinion of the Court regarding Puerto Rico's status. Justice Scalia also did not join that section of the opinion, and noted that "no party before us has asserted the lack of power of Congress to require extradition from a State to a Territory."

The decision effectively overruled Kentucky v. Dennison and reversed the judgments of the Eighth Circuit and the Southern District of Iowa.

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