Page images




SECTION 2. That the number of judges for said court, to be nominated and appointed in the mode directed by section two of said chapter, shall be three, each to receive the compensation provided by section four of said chapter. The presiding justice shall be designated and vacancies filled as therein provided. The agreement of two of the judges shall be necessary to decide any question arising before said court; and said court shall be allowed the necessary actual expenses provided for in said section four. A clerk and reporter shall be appointed and counsel for the United States designated as provided in sections four and five of said chapter, each to receive the compensation therein provided ; and the marshal of the United States for the District of Columbia, or his deputies, shall perform the duties prescribed in section six of said chapter.


DIRECTED BY SECTION TWO. - The word “two” is obviously intended for “one.” It is the first, and not the second, section of the act of 1874, that indicates the mode by which judges shall be “ nominated and appointed.” Section two of the act provides what the judges shall do after they shall have been appointed, as will be seen upon consulting that section, which is as follows:

That the said judges shall meet and organize said court in the city of Washington, where the said court shall hold its sittings. Three judges of said court shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, and the agreement of three shall be necessary to decide any question arising before said court.

This discrepancy is the result of a merely clerical error, and does no harm. Were it otherwise, even, the words “to be nominated and appointed in the mode directed by section two of said chapter" might well be viewed as surplusage, inasmuch as the effect of the first section of the new act is to re-establish the court « in

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the manner (directed] ... by said chapter," i. e. by nomination and

[ appointment.

Shall meet and organize. — The judges met and organized the court at Washington, July 22, 1874. Their sessions were held at No. 1514 H Street, Northwest. The duration of the existence of the court was extended by proclamation of the President (June 2. 1875), to January 22, 1876; and by Act of December 24, 1875,1 to July 22, 1876. By act of March 6; 1876,2 Congress allowed to claimants who, for reasons specified in the act, of absence from the United States, ignorance of the time limited, &c., had not previously filed their claims, the right to file them within three months from the taking effect of that act.3 The three months expired June 6, 1876, at which date the business of the court required an extension of time for its completion. Congress therefore, by act of July 22, 1876,4 extended the life of the court to January 1, 1877.5 At this last-named date the court expired by limitation, and thereupon the records were transmitted, as required by law, to the Department of State.

Notwithstanding every effort to give these acts publicity, there remained, after the expiration of the time for filing petitions, a number of claims which were not received in season to be filed. These and claims of a similar character (as we shall presently have occasion to see) would seem to be admissible under the present act.

Three judges of said court shall constitute a quorum. — It will be observed that the court, as re-established, consists of three judges ; and that the agreement of two of them is made necessary to decide any question arising before the court. It is believed that this reduction from five judges to three was not designedly effected, and that Congress will restore the bench to its former number by supplementary legislation.

Section three of the act of 1874 is as follows:

That the said court be, and it is hereby, authorized to publish notice of its sessions, and to make all needful rules and regulations not contravening the laws of the United States or the provisions of this act, for

1 19 Stat. at Large, 1. Appendix, III.
2 19 Stat. at Large, 6.

Appendix, III.

4 19 Stat. at Large, 96.
5 Appendix, III.




regulating the forms and mode of procedure before the said court, and for carrying into full and complete effect the provisions of this act. Such rules and mode of procedure shall conform, as far as practicable, to the mode of procedure and practice of the circuit courts of the United States; and the said court is hereby vested with the same powers now possessed by the circuit and district courts of the United States to compel the attendance and testimony of parties, claimants, and witnesses, to preserve order, and to punish for contempts; and in all claims which shall be presented before said court the person or persons prosecuting su claim shall be deemed the complainant and the United States shall be deemed the respondent. And said court shall have power to compel the production of any books or papers deemed material to the consideration of any claim or matter pending therein.


All needful rules and regulations. --The rules of the former court will be found in the Appendix. They are few and simple. The new court will probably not be called upon to modify them to any great extent. That relating to the admission of attorneys to practice is as follows:

Any person of good moral character admitted to practice as attorney or counsel in the supreme court of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, or in any of the Federal courts, on filing with the clerk a written statement of the date and place of such admission, with his name and post-office address in full, may, on motion, be admitted to practice in this court.”

The judges of the Court of Commissioners of Alabama Claims sat as a court in banc for the trial of cases brought before them upon a printed record. The suit was begun by the claimant's filing a written petition against the United States, praying judgment for his loss, which he was required to set forth in plain and succinct terms. The United States joined issue by the clerk's filing on the record, as of course, a general denial. The testimony for the greater part was taken before commissioners appointed for that purpose by the court, preference having been given in the way

I No special form of wording a petition was fixed, nor was technical nicety of language insisted upon, so long as the petitioner fairly brought himself within the requirements of section twelve, regulating the admissibility of claims. A style of petition adapted to the claim of a sailor for loss of personal effects and of wages is preserved in the Appendix (V.). This form was not materially varied from, except in the case of claims growing out of the capture of whalers.

of appointees to commissioners of the circuit court of the United States; that from foreign countries before a secretary of legation or consular officer of the United States. Witnesses were examined, after due notice given to the counsel for the United States. Their testimony was taken, either upon written interrogatories or upon oral examination, by counsel attending, in almost every state or territory in the Union, in Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, China, India, Peru, the West Indies, the Hawaiian Islands, and in other foreign countries. Each party furnished a printed brief, except that in cases of lesser magnitude the counsel for the United States did not consider it necessary to submit a brief unless (which was rare) the case exhibited a point of law not already considered. At the trial, the court was sometimes called upon to listen to the oral testimony of witnesses, and occasionally the claimant himself went upon the stand.

With few exceptions the claims filed were for the loss of property actually destroyed by one of the cruisers named in the act, or for the loss of personal effects and wages, by officers and seamen; or, in the case of whalers, for the loss of catch, and of shares in the lay. While statements of the amount of loss were frequently exaggerated, it may safely be affirmed that few attempts were made to impose upon the court fraudulent or fictitious claiins. The system adopted by the counsel for the United States, (assisted as he was by local counsel in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and elsewhere), worked satisfactorily; and the facts presented in every claim were subjected to rigid scrutiny. For the purpose of arriving at a fair and reasonable estimate of the value of ships, and materials used in navigation, the services of three experienced officers of the revenue marine service were called into requisition, — Captains Ottinger, McGowan, and Henriques. These “Trinity Masters (as they came familiarly to be known) had opportunity to examine carefully the figures produced by complainants; and their expert testimony, given orally at the trial, on behalf of the Government, was of great assistance both to counsel and to the court.

The act creating the court nowhere requires that the judges shall file a written opinion, or deliver an oral opinion, at the time of rendering a judgment. The plan was wisely adopted, however, of putting upon the record the opinion of the court upon questions of intrinsic importance, or where the views of the court would serve

[ocr errors]

as a guide to counsel in the preparation and trial of subsequent cases." At an early day it became apparent that the cases arranged themselves into groups or classes – each group presenting one or more lezal points that required careful consideration. A frequent duty therefore, was imposed upon the court of interpreting the meaning of the act in one claim which would govern the disposition of that entire class of cases. In view of this fact, it was not unusual for the judges to hear several cases, upon successive days, involving the same considerations. This method enabled them to avail themselves of the industry and ingenuity of different counsel, who viewed, each from his own stand-point, the question under discussion, and who discharged their duty to their clients with varying degrees of ability and zeal. The opinions were prepared, as a general rule, under circumstances which permitted thorough examination. While not every opinion received the unanimous approval of the court, it appears that upon two occasions only was there more than one dissenting voice; and until the death of Judge Baldwin, five judges sat at the hearing of every important case. The conclusions reached are thus seen to have considerable weight as authority. Not infrequently the disposal of a case was accompanied by oral remarks of one or more judges. What was said is preserved in the notes of the shorthand reporter, though reference thereto appears in the published report in a few instances only.

To preserve order and to punish for contempts. It is a well known principle that a court of record has the inherent power to punish for a contempt of its authority committed in its presence. To this extent, the tribunal we are considering would have been enabled to preserve order, in the absence of any provision in the statute upon the subject. Out of abundant caution, however, Congress has seen fit to assimilate the authority this court is to exercise, to that defined in the statute as possessed by the circuit and district courts of the United States, and to restrict it within those limits.

1 These opinions have often been cited in Congress when the Geneva Award bills were the subject of debate. They have likewise proved of essential service in the French and American Claims Commission, now sitting at Washington. It is to be hoped that future tribunals, whether courts or commissions, that have to deal with legal questions affecting the rights of private claimants (especially where those ques. tions are of an international character) will leave opinions upon the record for their successors, who may be charged with similar duties.


« PreviousContinue »