Common Law Powers of District of Columbia Courts.

The portion of § 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that authorized the Supreme Court to issue writs of mandamus in the exercise of its original jurisdiction was held invalid in Marbury v. Madison,266 as an unconstitutional enlargement of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction. After two more futile efforts to obtain a writ of mandamus, in cases in which the Court found that power to issue the writ had not been vested by statute in the courts of the United States except in aid of already existing jurisdiction,267 a litigant was successful in Kendall v. United States ex rel. Stokes,268 in finding a court that would take jurisdiction in a mandamus proceeding. This was the circuit court of the United States for the District of Columbia, which was held to have jurisdiction, on the theory that the common law, in force in Maryland when the cession of that part of the state that became the District of Columbia was made to the United States, remained in force in the District. At an early time, therefore, the federal courts established the rule that mandamus can be issued only when authorized by a constitutional statute and within the limits imposed by the common law and the separation of powers.269

Footnotes

266
5 U.S. (1 Cr.) 137 (1803). Cf. Wiscart v. D’Auchy, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 321 (1796). [Back to text]
267
McIntire v. Wood, 11 U.S. (7 Cr.) 504 (1813); McClung v. Silliman, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 598 (1821). [Back to text]
268
37 U.S. (12 Pet.) 524 (1838). [Back to text]
269
In 1962, Congress conferred upon all federal district courts the same power to issue writs of mandamus as was exercisable by federal courts in the District of Columbia. 76 Stat. 744, 28 U.S.C. § 1361. [Back to text]