Reid v. Covert
|Reid v. Covert|
|Argued May 3, 1956
Reargued February 27, 1957
Decided June 10, 1957
|Full case name||Reid, Superintendent, District of Columbia Jail v. Clarice Covert|
|Citations||354 U.S. 1 (more)
77 S. Ct. 1222; 1 L. Ed. 2d 1148; 1957 U.S. LEXIS 729
|The Constitution supersedes all treaties ratified by the United States Senate. The military may not try the civilian wife of a soldier under military jurisdiction.|
|Plurality||Black, joined by Warren, Douglas, Brennan|
|Dissent||Clark, joined by Burton|
|Whittaker took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.|
|U.S. Const. Art. VI|
Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that the Constitution supersedes international treaties ratified by the United States Senate. According to the decision, "this Court has regularly and uniformly recognized the supremacy of the Constitution over a treaty," although the case itself was with regard to an executive agreement, not a "treaty" in the U.S. legal sense, and the agreement itself has never been ruled unconstitutional.
The case involved Clarice Covert, who had been convicted by a military tribunal of murdering her husband. At the time of Mrs. Covert's alleged offense, an executive agreement was in effect between the United States and United Kingdom which permitted United States' military courts to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over offenses committed in Great Britain by American servicemen or their dependents.
Opinion of the Court
The Court found: "No agreement with a foreign nation can confer power on the Congress, or on any other branch of Government, which is free from the restraints of the Constitution." The Court's core holding of the case is that U.S. Citizen civilians abroad have the right to Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment constitutional protections.
The Court agreed with the petitioners, concluding that as United States citizens they were entitled to the protections of the Bill of Rights, notwithstanding that they committed crimes on foreign soil. The Court distinguished Reid from the Insular Cases: The "Insular Cases" can be distinguished from the present cases in that they involved the power of Congress to provide rules and regulations to govern temporarily territories with wholly dissimilar traditions and institutions.
Justice Black declared: "The concept that the Bill of Rights and other constitutional protections against arbitrary government are inoperative when they become inconvenient or when expediency dictates otherwise is a very dangerous doctrine and if allowed to flourish would destroy the benefit of a written Constitution and undermine the basis of our government."
The court initially ruled against Mrs. Covert, but changed its mind and issued a new decision in her favor after her lawyer, Frederick Bernays Wiener, famously made a successful petition for rehearing. This is the only time the Supreme Court has changed its mind as the result of a petition for rehearing.
- Green, Sedgwick W. (1958). "The Treaty Making Power and the Extraterritorial Effect of the Constitution: Reid v. Covert and the Girard". Minnesota Law Review 42: 825.
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