Ex parte Quirin decision (7-31-42)

Reading Eagle (July 31, 1942)

Military trial is upheld by Supreme Court

High tribunal declares Nazi spies show no cause for their discharge by writ


Washington (AP) –
The seven alleged Nazi saboteurs lost today in their effort to escape jurisdiction of President Roosevelt’s military commission by appeal to the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Stone announced that the court denied the prisoners’ motion to file writs of habeas corpus.

Only seven of the eight accused saboteurs sought the writ.

The court’s opinion found:

  1. That the charges preferred against petitioners on which they are being tried by military commission appointed by the order of the President of July 2, 1942, allege an offense or offenses which the President is authorized to order tried before a military commission.

  2. That the military commission was lawfully constituted.

  3. That petitioners are held in lawful custody for trial before the military commission, and have not shown cause for being discharged by writ of habeas corpus.

The opinion then said:

The Court has fully considered the questions raised in these cases and thoroughly argued at the bar, and has reached its conclusion upon them. It now announces its decision and enters its judgment in each case, in advance of the preparation of a full opinion, which necessarily will require a considerable period of time for its preparation and which, when prepared, will be filed with the Clerk.

Verdict hinted next week

The military commission trying the eight prisoners heard the opening of final arguments today.

Attorney General Biddle and Col. Kenneth C. Royall, who had argued the case before the Supreme Court, came to court, however, to hear the decision, after the commission took a two-hour luncheon recess.

Biddle said arguments before the commission might be finished speedily and the commission’s verdict go to the President next week. Royall, however, said he did not know whether proceedings could be wound up that soon.

The commission set 1:30 p.m. for a resumption of the arguments.

The eight Supreme Court justices weighing the case – Justice Murphy disqualified himself because of his present service in the Army – went into a two-hour conference immediately after two days of arguments had been completed yesterday and this circumstance led to the expectation of a speedy decision. In adjourning the special term until today, however, the court made no announcement as to when its ruling would be issued.

Two questions before court

Before the court were two questions, submitted in the prisoners’ brief thus:

  1. May the petitioners (six of whom are enemy aliens) maintain this proceeding for a writ of habeas corpus?

  2. If so, are the petitioners unlawfully restrained of their liberty?

The parenthetical phrase was that of the defense. They contended that the youngest prisoner, Herbert Hans Haupt, 22, was an American citizen; the prosecution disputed this, contending that he had joined the German Army, in which case he would automatically forfeit his citizenship. An eighth prisoner, George John Dasch, will not seek the Supreme Court’s intercession.

In other words, Army officers, carrying out their assignment from the President to defend the prisoners, asked the Supreme Court to rule that men in the defendants’ situation could seek justice in civil courts.

Tenor of agreement

The argument before the Supreme Court indicated the tenor of the prosecution and defense pleas behind the closed doors of the military commission in the Justice Department building.

The prosecution alleged that the men left this country for Germany with funds furnished by the Nazis – Haupt traveling on a German passport attended a sabotage school there run by the Army, embarked from L’Orient, France, on U-boats equipped with extensive paraphernalia and specific instructions for the destruction of important dams, factories and other installations here and plotted a two-year campaign of sabotage to further the Axis cause.

The defense claimed that the men, all former residents of this country, were loyal to the United States, that they attended the school and boarded the submarine as the only means of fleeing Germany, that they buried their explosives in the sand upon landing, and did nothing to carry out any sabotage campaign, and that they were planning to report to the authorities.