Article II, Section 2, Clause 1:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
In 1942 eight youths, seven Germans and one American, all of whom had received training in sabotage in Berlin, were brought to this country aboard two German submarines and put ashore, one group on the Florida coast, the other on Long Island, with the idea that they would proceed forthwith to practice their art on American factories, military equipment, and installations. Making their way inland, the saboteurs were soon picked up by the FBI, some in New York, others in Chicago, and turned over to the Provost Marshal of the District of Columbia. On July 2, the President appointed a military commission to try them for violation of the laws of war, to wit: for not wearing fixed emblems to indicate their combatant status.1 In the midst of the trial, the accused petitioned the Supreme Court and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for leave to bring habeas corpus proceedings. Their argument embraced the contentions: (1) that the offense charged against them was not known to the laws of the United States; (2) that it was not one arising in the land and naval forces; and (3) that the tribunal trying them had not been constituted in accordance with the requirements of the Articles of War.
The first argument the Court met as follows: The act of Congress in providing for the trial before military tribunals of offenses against the law of war is sufficiently definite, although Congress has not undertaken to codify or mark the precise boundaries of the law of war, or to enumerate or define by statute all the acts which that law condemns. “. . . [T]hose who during time of war pass surreptitiously from enemy territory into . . . [that of the United States], discarding their uniforms upon entry, for the commission of hostile acts involving destruction of life or property, have the status of unlawful combatants punishable as such by military commission.” 2 The second argument it disposed of by showing that petitioners’ case was of a kind that was never deemed to be within the terms of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, citing in confirmation of this position the trial of Major Andre.3 The third contention the Court overruled by declining to draw the line between the powers of Congress and the President in the premises,4 thereby, in effect, attributing to the President the right to amend the Articles of War in a case of the kind before the Court ad libitum.5
The Court also rejected the jurisdictional challenge by one of the saboteurs on the basis of his claim to U.S. citizenship, finding U.S. citizenship wholly irrelevant to the determination of whether a wartime captive is an “enemy belligerent” within the meaning of the law of war.6
- Military Order of July 2, 1942, 7 Fed. Reg. 5103 (July 3, 1942). President Roosevelt by Proclamation established that “subjects, citizens or residents of any nation at war with the United States or who give obedience to or act under the direction of any such nation, and who during time of war enter or attempt to enter the United States or any territory or possession thereof, through coastal or boundary defenses, and are charged with committing or attempting or preparing to commit sabotage, espionage, hostile or warlike acts, or violations of the law of war, shall be subject to the law of war and to the jurisdiction of military tribunals; and that such persons shall not be privileged to seek any remedy or maintain any proceeding directly or indirectly, or to have any such remedy or proceeding sought on their behalf, in the courts of the United States.” Proclamation No. 2561, of July 2, 1942, 7 Fed. Reg. 5101, 56 Stat. 1964. The Supreme Court disregarded the President’s effort to deny the accused access to the court, stating “there is certainly nothing in the Proclamation to preclude access to the courts for determining its applicability to the particular case.” Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1, 25 (1942). Moreover, the Court observed, “neither the Proclamation nor the fact that they are enemy aliens forecloses consideration by the courts of petitioners’ contentions that the Constitution and laws of the United States constitutionally enacted forbid their trial by military commission.” Id.
- Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. at 29–30, 35.
- Id. at 41–42.
- Id. at 28–29.
- The Court would later take more seriously Congress’s role in cabining the President’s authority to establish military commissions. See ArtII.S2.C1.1.18 Detention Authority.
- Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1, 37–38 (1942) ( “Citizens who associate themselves with the military arm of the enemy government, and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts, are enemy belligerents within the meaning of the Hague Convention and the law of war.” ). See also Colepaugh v. Looney, 235 F.2d 429, 432 (10th Cir. 1956), cert. denied, 352 U.S. 1014 (1957) ( “[T]he petitioner’s citizenship in the United States does not . . . confer upon him any constitutional rights not accorded any other belligerent under the laws of war.” ).