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MAHLER v. EBY, 264 U.S. 32 (1924)

U.S. Supreme Court

MAHLER v. EBY, 264 U.S. 32 (1924)

264 U.S. 32

MAHLER et al.
EBY, Inspector in Charge of Immigration Service, U. S. Department of Labor at Chicago, Ill.
No. 184.

Argued Jan. 24 and 25, 1924.
Decided Feb 18, 1924.

Writs of habeas corpus, by Herbert Mahler, by Joseph Oates, by Petro Nigra, by John Avilla, and by William Moran, against Howard Eby, Inspector in Charge of Immigration Service, United States Department of Labor, at Chicago, Ill. From a judgment dismissing all of the writs, petitioners appeal. Judgment reversed, with directions not to discharge petitioners until the Secretary of Labor shall have a reasonable time in which to correct and perfect his findings, or to initiate another proceeding against them. [264 U.S. 32, 33]   This is an appeal from a judgment of the District Court of the United States for Northern Illinois, dismissing five writs of habeas corpus and remanding the appellants, who are aliens, to the custody of the Immigration Inspector at Chicago for deportation, in pursuance [264 U.S. 32, 34]   to warrants issued by the Secretary of Labor. The cases were consolidated in the court below.

In 1918, all the appellants were tried and found guilty of violation of section 5 of the Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917 (chapter 15, 40 Stat. 76, 80 [Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 2044e]), and of section 4 of the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917 (chapter 30, 40 Stat. 217, 222 [Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 10212d]). All but Petro Nigra were sentenced to the United States penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan ., for a period of 5 years, and Nigra was sentenced to the same place for 18 months. Upon error to the Court of Appeals these sentences were affirmed and became final.

Pending the imprisonment of appellants, the Secretary of Labor issued warrants for arrest of the appellants under the Act of May 10, 1920, c. 174, 41 Stat. 593 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1923, 4289 1/4 b [264 U.S. 32, 4]   to 4289 1/4 b [264 U.S. 32, 6]   ).

They were all in the same form. That as to Mahler was as follows:

On June 14 and 15, 1921, each appellant had a hearing before Immigrant Inspector Paul at Leavenworth, at which appellants were examined orally, and the indictment, the judgments, and the opinion and judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals were introduced in evidence. The Secretary of Labor, on the records thus made and presented to him, issued a warrant of deportation of each appellant in all respects, mutatis mutandis, like that in the case of Herbert Mahler, as follows:

The Act of Congress enacted May 10, 1920 (chapter 174, 41 Stat. 593) provides that aliens of certain classes described in the act, in addition to those for whose expulsion authority already exists, shall, upon the warrant of the Secretary of Labor, be taken into his custody and deported in the manner provided in sections 19 and 20 of the Immigration Act of February 5, 1917 (39 Stat. p. 889 [Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 4289 1/4 jj, 4289 1/4 k]), 'if the Secretary of Labor, after hearing, finds that such aliens are undesirable residents of the United States.' The classes include all aliens interned as enemies by the President's proclamation under R. S. 4067 (Comp. St. 7615) and alien convicts under the Espionage Act, the Explosives [264 U.S. 32, 37]   Act, the act restricting foreign travel, the Sabotage Act, the Selective Draft Act, the act punishing threats against the President, the Trading with the Enemy Act, and certain sections of the Penal Code. Section 2 makes the decision of the Secretary of Labor in ordering expulsion of an alien under the act final.

The petitions for writs of habeas corpus charged that the warrant of deportation under which the petitioners were held were void because, at the time of the issue of the warrants, the Espionage Act (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 1012a et seq.) and the Selective Draft Act ( Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 2044a et seq.), for convictions under which they were about to be deported, had been repealed, that the Act of May 10, 1920, under which the warrant was issued, was an ex post facto law, because the convictions for which they were to be deported were for acts committed before its passage, that there was no legal evidence to establish that petitioners were aliens amenable to deportation under the act, that the hearing and proceedings were without due process of law, and that for these and other reasons the commitment was void.

Counsel for the appellants, in their brief and in their argument, attacked the constitutionality of the act of 1920, not only because it was an ex post facto law, but because it delegated legislative power to an executive officer, and because the criterion for his finding-i. e., that the persons to be deported should be 'undesirable residents of the United States'-was so vague and uncertain that it left the liberty of the alien to the whim and caprice of an executive officer, in violation of due process required by the Fifth Amendment. They further attacked the validity of the warrants on the ground that they did not show a finding by the Secretary that the appellants were undesirable residents of the United States, a condition precedent to a legal deportation. They further alleged that as to all the petitioners there was no evidence to sustain such a finding, if it had been made, and that as [264 U.S. 32, 38]   to Petro Nigra there was also a fatal lack of evidence at his hearing to show that he had been convicted of the violations of the statutes charged in the warrant.

Messrs. Walter Nelles, of New York City, and Otto Christensen, of Chicago, Ill., for appellants.

Mr. Geo. Ross Hull, of Washington, D. C., for appellee.

Mr. Chief Justice TAFT, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the Court.

The theory of the draftsman of the petition for the writ and of the assignment of errors was that the same [264 U.S. 32, 39]   constitutional restrictions apply to an alien deportation act as to a law punishing crime. It is well settled that deportation, while it may be burdensome and severe for the alien, is not a punishment. Fong Yue Ting v. United States, 149 U.S. 698, 730 , 13 S. Sup. Ct. 1016; Bugajewitz v. Adams, 228 U.S. 585, 591 , 33 S. Sup. Ct. 607. The right to expel aliens is a sovereign power, necessary to the safety of the country, and only limited by treaty obligations in respect thereto entered into with other governments. Fong Yue Ting v. United States, supra. The inhibition against the passage of an ex post facto law by Congress in section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution applies only to criminal laws, Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386; Johannessen v. United States, 225 U.S. 227, 242 , 32 S. Sup. Ct. 613; and not to a deportation act like this, Bugajewitz v. Adams, 228 U.S. 585, 591 , 33 S. Sup. Ct. 607. Congress by the act of 1920 was not increasing the punishment for the crimes of which petitioners had been convicted, by requiring their deportation if found undesirable residents. It was, in the exercise of its unquestioned right, only seeking to rid the country of persons who had shown by their career that their continued presence here would not make for the safety or welfare of society. In Hawker v. New York, 170 U.S. 189 , 18 Sup. Ct. 573, the validity of a law of New York which forbade, on penalty, any one who had been convicted of a felony from practicing medicine, was upheld as a reasonable exercise of the police power, and not an increase of the punishment for the felony. The present is even a clearer case than that.

The brief for appellants insists that, as the laws under which the appellants were convicted have been repealed, the fact of their conviction cannot be made the basis for deportation. It was their past conviction that put them in the class of persons liable to be deported as undesirable citizens. That record for such a purpose was not affected by the repeal of the laws which they had violated, and under which they had suffered punishment. The repeal [264 U.S. 32, 40]   did not take the convicted persons out of the enumerated classes, or take from the convictions any probative force rightly belonging to them.

Nor is the act invalid in delegating legislative power to the Secretary of Labor. The sovereign power to expel aliens is political, and is vested in the political departments of the government. Even if the executive may not exercise it without congressional authority, Congress cannot exercise it effectively save through the executive. It cannot, in the nature of things, designate all the persons to be excluded. It must accomplish its purpose by classification and by conferring power of selection within classes upon an executive agency. Tiaco v. Forbes, 228 U.S. 549, 557 , 33 S. Sup. Ct. 585. That is what it has done here. It has established classes of persons who in its judgment constitute an eligible list for deportation, of whom the Secretary is directed to deport those he finds to be undesirable residents of this country. With the background of a declared policy of Congress to exclude aliens classified in great detail by their undesirable qualities in the Immigration Act of 1917, and in previous legislation of a similar character, we think the expression 'undesirable residents of the United States' is sufficiently definite to make the delegation quite within the power of Congress. As far back as 1802 the naturalization statute of that year (chapter 28, 2 Stat. 153) prescribed that no alien should be naturalized who did not appear to the court to have behaved during his residence in this country 'as a man of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same.' Our history has created a common understanding of the words 'undesirable residents' which gives them the quality of a recognized standard.

We do not think that the discretion vested in the Secretary under such circumstances is any more vague or [264 U.S. 32, 41]   uncertain or any less defined than that exercised in deciding whether aliens are likely to become a public charge, a discretion vested in the immigration executives for half a century and never questioned. Act Aug. 3, 1882, c. 376 (22 Stat. 214), and Act Feb. 5, 1917, c. 29 (39 Stat. 874 [ Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 4289 1/4 a]). See Buttfield v. Stranahan, Ed. 525.

International Harvester Co. v. Kentucky, 234 U.S. 216 , 34 Sup. Ct. 853, and United States v. Cohen Grocery Co., 255 U.S. 81 , 41 Sup. Ct. 298, 14 A. L. R. 1045, are cited on behalf of petitioners. In those cases, statutes were held invalid for vagueness. They were both criminal cases, in which the uncertain words of the statute encountered the limitation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. They did not inform the accused sufficiently of the nature and cause of the accusation. The rule as to a definite standard of action is not so strict in cases of the delegation of legislative power to executive boards and officers. Cases like the one before us were distinguished from the Cohen Case by Chief Justice White in his opinion in that case, when he said (page 92 [41 Sup. Ct. 301]):

The next objection is that there was no evidence before the immigration inspector and the Secretary upon which a warrant could properly issue. A special objection of this kind is taken in the case of Petro Nigra. It is said that in the record of the hearing of his case before the inspector there does not appear any evidence of his conviction under the Espionage and Selective Draft Acts. It is true that the certified copies of the indictment and judgment against all the petitioners do not appear in the hearing of Nigra as shown, but there is a stipulation between the parties in another part of the record herein that such certified copies were used in the hearing of each [264 U.S. 32, 42]   petitioner. It is clear that the hearing of Nigra was not properly reported, and that his case is like the others.

But it is said there was no evidence in the hearings of any of them as to their being undesirable residents of the United States. There were their convictions. Those were enough to justify the Secretary in finding that they were undesirable. The statute does not expressly require additional evidence. If it did, there was here the circumstance that, after the examination of the petitioners had proceeded to a certain point of inquiry, the petitioners under the advice of counsel declined to answer further questions, an attitude from which the Secretary might well infer that what would be revealed by answers would not add to their desirability as residents. Of course, the question how much additional evidence should be required must vary with the class which makes its members eligible for deportation. Alien enemies interned during war may be very good people, and their having been interned may have little bearing on their being good material for residents or citizens when peace returns; but the aliens in this case were convicted of crimes under such circumstances that the Secretary, without more, might find them undesirable as residents.

But the Secretary made no express finding so far as the warrant for deportation discloses. It is contended that this renders the warrant invalid. It is answered on behalf of the appellee that, in habeas corpus proceedings, the prisoner is not to be discharged for defects in the original arrest or commitument, because the object of the proceeding is not like an action to recover damages for an unlawful arrest or commitment, but is to ascertain whether the prisoner can lawfully be detained in custody, citing Nishimura Ekiu v. United States, 142 U.S. 651, 662 , 12 S. Sup. Ct. 336. What that case really decided was that, even if the arrest was unjustified by the warrant or commitment on its face, yet if the evidence on the hearing of the petition for habeas [264 U.S. 32, 43]   corpus showed either that facts existed at the time of the arrest or had occurred since, which made the detention legal, the court would not release the prisoner, but would do what justice required and would dispose of the prisoner accordingly. Iasigi v. Van De Carr, 166 U.S. 391 , 17 Sup. Ct. 595; Stallings v. Splain, 253 U.S. 339, 343 , 40 S. Sup. Ct. 537; United States ex rel. Bilokumsky v. Tod, 263 U.S. 149, 158 , 44 S. Sup. Ct. 54, 68 L. Ed. --; United States ex rel. Mensevich v. Tod, 264 U.S. 134 , 44 Sup. Ct. 282, 68 L. Ed. --, decided this day.

In the case before us the defect in the warrants of deportation has not been supplied. The defect is jurisdictional. There is no authority given to the Secretary to deport, except upon his finding after a hearing that the petitioners were undesirable residents. There is no evidence that he made such a finding, except what is found in the warrant of deportation. The warrants recite that upon the evidence the Secretary has become satisfied that the petitioner aliens have been found in the United States in violation of the Act of May 10, 1920, and that they were finally convicted of the offenses named in the act. They could not have been found in the United States in violation of the act of 1920 until after the Secretary had found that they were undesirable residents. Appellees' argument is that, therefore, this must be taken to mean that he finds them undesirable citizens. But the words 'have been found' naturally refer to a time when the warrant of arrest was served on them, and before he had them before him. They exclude a possible meaning that he was then making their stay in the country illegal by implication of a finding that they were undesirable. This conclusion is borne out by the language of the Secretary in the warrant of arrest, which before the hearings he issued against the petitioners, and in which he directed their arrest on the ground that they had been found in the United States in violation of the Act of May 10, 1920. It would clearly appear from these two documents, which are naturally to be construed in pari materia, that the [264 U.S. 32, 44]   Secretary did not deem his finding that the petitioners were undesirable citizens essential to enable him to deport them. Indeed, he seems to have used forms applicable to aliens of a fixed excluded class, to be deported on identification with the class, without any further finding by him. The natural construction of his language is that he has become satisfied that they are in the country in violation of the act solely because they have been convicted as stated.

Does this omission invalidate the warrant? The finding is made a condition precedent to deportation by the statute. It is essential that, where an executive is exercising delegated legislative power he should substantially comply with all the statutory requirements in its exercise, and that, if his making a finding is a condition precedent to this act, the fulfillment of that condition should appear in the record of the act. In Wichita R. R. & Light Co. v. Public Utilities Commission, 260 U.S. 48 , 43 Sup. Ct. 51, a statute of a state required that a Public Utility Commission should find existing rates to be unreasonable before reducing them, but there was no specific requirement that the order should contain the finding. We held that the order in that case, made after a hearing and ordering a reduction, was void for lack of the express finding in the order. We put this conclusion, not only on the language of the statute, but also on general principles of constitutional government. After pointing out the necessity for such delegation of certain legislative power to executive agencies we said (page 59 [43 Sup. Ct. 55]):

If the principle thus stated is to be consistently adhered to, it is difficult in any view to give validity to the warrants of deportation before us.

It is said that no exception was taken to the warrant on this account until the filing of the brief of counsel in this court. There was an averment that the warrant was void without definite reasons in the petition of habeas corpus. There was nothing of the kind in the assignment of error. But we may under our rules notice a plain and serious error though unassigned. Rule 21, 4, and rule 35, 1, 222 U. S. appendix, pp. 27, 37; Wiborg v. United States, 163 U.S. 632, 658 , 16 S. Sup. Ct. 1127, 1197; Clyatt v. United States, 197 U.S. 207, 221 , 222 S., 25 Sup. Ct. 429; Crawford v. United States, 212 U.S. 183, 194 , 29 S. Sup. Ct. 260, 15 Ann. Cas. 392; Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 362 , 30 S. Sup. Ct. 544, 19 Ann. Cas. 705. The character of the defect is such that we cannot relieve ourselves from its consideration. The warrant lacks the finding required by the statute, and such a fundamental defect we should notice. It goes to the existence of the power on which the proceeding rests. It is suggested that, if the objection had been made earlier, it might have been quickly remedied. There was no chance for objection afforded the petitioners until, after the warrant issued, in the petition for habeas corpus. The defect may still be remedied on the objection made in this court.

We need not discharge the petitioners at once because of the defective warrant. By section 761 of the Revised Statutes (Comp. St. 1289) the duty of the court or judge in habeas corpus proceedings is prescribed as follows: [264 U.S. 32, 46]   'The court, or justice, or judge shall proceed in a summary way to determine the facts of the case, by hearing the testimony and arguments, and thereupon to dispose of the party as law and justice require.'

Under this section, this court has often delayed the discharge of the petitioner for such reasonable time as may be necessary to have him taken before the court where the judgment was rendered, that defects which renderdischarge necessary may be corrected. In re Bonner, Petitioner, 151 U.S. 242, 261 , 14 S. Sup. Ct. 323; Medley, Petitioner, 134 U.S. 160, 174 , 10 S. Sup. Ct. 384; Coleman v. Tennessee, 97 U.S. 509 ; United States v. McBratney, 104 U.S. 621 , 624; Bryant v. United States, 214 Fed. 51, 53, 130 C. C. A. 491. The same rule should be applied in habeas corpus proceedings to test the legality of confinement under the decision of an administrative tribunal like the Secretary of Labor in deportation cases. No time limitation is imposed upon proceedings under the Act of May 10, 1920. If upon the evidence the Secretary finds that these petitioners are undersirable residents and issues warrants of deportation reciting that finding with the other jurisdictional facts, there will then be no reason, so far as this record discloses, why they should not be deported.

Accordingly the judgment of the District Court is reversed with directions not to discharge the petitioners until the Secretary of Labor shall have reasonable time in which to correct and perfect his finding on the evidence produced at the original hearing, if he finds it adequate, or to initiate another proceeding against them.

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