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ArtI.S8.C11.5 Prizes of War and Congress's War Powers

Article I, Section 8, Clause 11:

[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; . . .

The power of Congress with respect to prizes is plenary; no one can have any interest in prizes captured except by permission of Congress.1 Nevertheless, since international law informs United States law, the Court will apply international law norms so long as such international law norms have not been modified by treaty or by legislative or executive action.2 Thus, during the Civil War, the Court found that the Confiscation Act of 18613 and the Supplementary Act of 1863,4 which, in authorizing the condemnation of vessels, made provision for the protection of interests of loyal citizens, merely created a municipal forfeiture and did not override or displace the law of prize.5 The Court decided, therefore, that when a vessel was liable to condemnation under either law, the government was at liberty to proceed under the most stringent rules of international law, with the result that the citizen would be deprived of the benefit of the protective provisions of the statute.6 Similarly, when Cuban ports were blockaded during the Spanish-American War, the Court held that the rule of international law exempting unarmed fishing vessels from capture applied in the absence of any treaty provision, or other public act of the government in relation to the subject.7

The Siren, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 389, 393 (1871). back
The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 700, 711 (1900). back
Act of Aug. 6, 1861, ch. 60, 12 Stat. 319. back
Act of Mar. 3, 1863, ch. 90, 12 Stat. 762. back
The Hampton, 72 U.S. (5 Wall.) 372, 376 (1867). back
Id. back
The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. at 711. back