Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1; 63 S. Ct. 1; 87 L. Ed. 3 (1942)

Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1; 63 S. Ct. 1; 87 L. Ed. 3 (1942)

Facts—The petitioners were all born in Germany. All lived in the United States and returned to Germany between 1933 and 1941, where they attended sabotage school. After completing this training, Quirin and two others boarded a submarine and proceeded to Amagansett Beach, N.Y. They landed on or about June 13, 1942, carrying a supply of explosives and wearing German infantry uniforms. They buried their uniforms and proceeded to New York City. The four remaining petitioners proceeded by submarine to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. These men were wearing caps of German marine infantry and carrying explosives. They buried uniform parts and proceeded to Jacksonville, Florida, and thence to various points in the United States. Agents of the FBI took all of them into custody. All had received instructions to destroy war industries and war facilities in the United States. The president of the United States by order of July 2, 1942, appointed a military commission and directed it to try the petitioners for offenses against the law of war and Articles of War, and prescribed regulations on trial and review of record of the trial and any decision handed down by the commission.

Question—Was trial by a military commission without jury legal?


ReasonsC.J. Stone (8–0). The federal government must provide for the common defense. The president has the power to carry into effect all laws that Congress passes regarding the conduct of the war and all laws defining and punishing offenses against the law of nations. These men were nothing more than spies. They fall under this category by their actions. “It has not hitherto been challenged, and, so far as we are advised, it has never been suggested in the very extensive literature of the subject that an alien spy, in time of war, could not be tried by military tribunal without a jury.

“We conclude that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments did not restrict whatever authority was conferred by the Constitution to try offenses against the law of war by military commission, and that petitioners, charged with such an offense not required to be tried by jury at common law, were lawfully placed on trial by the Commission without a jury.”

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