Puerto Rico v. Branstad, 483 U.S. 219; 107 S. Ct. 2802; 97 L. Ed. 2d 187(1987)

Puerto Rico v. Branstad, 483 U.S. 219; 107 S. Ct. 2802; 97 L. Ed. 2d 187 (1987)

Facts—Ronald Calder struck two persons with his automobile. Army Villalba was killed and her husband, who had quarreled with respondent Calder earlier, was deliberately run over. On bail, Calder was charged with murder and attempted murder. He fled to Iowa. The governor of Puerto Rico requested Calder’s extradition and was refused. Puerto Rico sought a mandamus in the district court holding that Iowa violated the extradition clause and the Federal Extradition Act. Resting on Kentucky v. Dennison (1861), the District Court held that the federal courts had no power to order a governor to fulfill the state’s obligation under the extradition clause (Art. 4, Sec. 2). The Court of Appeals affirmed. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Question—May a court order a state governor to extradite a criminal?


ReasonsJ. Marshall (8–0). Dennison, like today’s Branstad case, involves extradition. It was much related to secession, a threatening civil war, and free and slavery states. Representatives of the Deep South withdrew from Congress and Justice Campbell resigned from the Supreme Court. “The Court firmly rejected the position taken by Dennison and the governors of other free states that the extradition clause requires only the delivery of fugitives charged with acts which would be criminal by the law of the asylum state.” Despite the Court’s belief that the extradition clause was absolutist, the Court concluded that “the words ‘it shall be the duty’ were not used as mandatory and compulsory, but as declaratory of the moral duty” created by the Constitution. Thus for over 125 years Kentucky v. Dennison has stood for two propositions, first that the extradition clause creates a mandatory duty to deliver up fugitives “on demand” and, second, that the federal courts cannot compel performance of this ministerial duty. We hold that the commands of the extradition clause “are mandatory, and afford no discretion to the executive officers or courts of the asylum state.” The fundamental premise of Dennison that in all circumstances the states and the federal government must be viewed as coequal sovereigns “is not representa- tive of the law today.” Kentucky v. Dennison is the product of another time and hence the Court of Appeals is reversed.

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