Court Cases

Ex Parte Merryman (1861)
This was not a Supreme Court case but a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, sitting as a judge for the US Circuit Court for the District of Maryland.  It was an important test of presidential power during wartime.  As the Civil War broke out, there were riots in parts of Maryland, and Lieutenant John Merryman, an officer in the Maryland cavalry was arrested shortly after President Lincoln, in April 1861, suspended habeas corpus in the area where there was fighting.  Merryman filed a writ of habeas corpus, seeking his release from what he said was arbitrary imprisonment.  Chief Justice Taney ruled that only Congress, not the president, could suspend habeas corpus.  President Lincoln disregarded the ruling. 

Ex Parte Milligan (1866)
In September 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, President Lincoln imposed congressionally-authorized martial law and suspended habeas corpus in the case of spies and “aiders of the enemy.”  Lambdin Milligan was a Confederate sympathizer who was sentenced to death by a military tribunal in Indiana for disloyalty and inciting insurrection.  Milligan petitioned the circuit court for habeas corpus and the Supreme Court ended up hearing his case and ruling in his favor.  In a landmark decision, the court ruled that military tribunals could not be established to try civilians where courts were open, even in war time, and that the suspension of habeas corpus was illegal unless the courts were closed.

United States v. Susan B. Anthony
In June 1873, the feminist Susan B. Anthony, "a person of the female sex," was found guilty of "illegal" voting after a jury trial conducted by the US Circuit Court for the North District of New York.  Anthony had attempted to vote for a Member of Congress in Rochester , New York during the 1872 election.  She was sentenced to pay a $100 fine and the costs of prosecution.  She refused, stating:

"I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper- The Revolution -four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your manmade, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government; and I shall work on with might and main to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that 'Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.'"

Read about the trial:

Minor v. Happersett (1874)
Virginia Minor was a member of Susan B. Anthony's National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) who tried to vote in Missouri , but was blocked by the registrar on the grounds that voting was limited to males by the state constitution.  Because married women could not on their own initiate legal actions, her husband joined her in bringing a lawsuit arguing that her rights of citizenship had been violated.  The US Supreme Court ruled in 1874 that voting was not among the privileges guaranteed citizens by the Fourteenth Amendment.  After that decision, the NWSA adopted the new strategy of working for a constitutional amendment that would grant women the suffrage.  Such an amendment (the Nineteenth) was finally passed in 1920, 46 years after the Minor v. Happersett decision. 

Read the decision: v Happersett.htm