Earlier this year I read a case, I think a US Supreme Court case, dealing with section three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. But I cannot recall the name of the case, and I have not been able to find it using Google searches.

The facts as I recall them: A man, in fact a former slave, had been accused and convicted of murder, or perhaps manslaughter, in West Virginia. An appeal was filed on the grounds that the judge who tried the case and imposed sentence had been a Virginia legislator during the Civil War, and had voted for the act of secession and for acts funding the Confederate forces, thereby "engaging in rebellion". The appeal claimed that the judge was therefore subject to removal under section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and his sentence was thereby invalid.

Shortly after the Civil War (or perhaps in its latter days) the former legislator had been appointed to be a county judge in the newly organized state of West Virginia.

The court ruled that the section was not self-executing, that no process had been brought to remove the judge, and that to collaterally invalidate otherwise valid court judgements would lead to chaos.

The case occurred after the ratification of the 14th, and before the passage of the Amnesty Act in 1872. Can anyone provide the name and proper citation for this case?


1 Answer 1


There is a factually similar impeachment case. But there might be a court case fitting these facts as well.

No such case is annotated by West under 14th Amendment, Section 3 either with the note or on its list of citations. It is also not mentioned in a law review article looking a WV civil war era jurisprudence up to 1872 when WV's new constitution was adopted.

I suspect that the case you are looking for is a pair of related cases (neither of which involves West Virginia), one tried by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court alone on a habeas corpus petition when riding circuit, and a related decision of the Texas Supreme Court involving the same defendant. Griffin's Case, 11 F. Cas. 7, 2 Am. Law T. Rep. U. S. Cts. 93; 8 Am. Law Reg. N. S. 358; 25 Tex. Supp. 623 ; 2 Balt. Law Trans. 433; 3 Am. Law Rev. 784 (Circuit Court, D. Virginia, May 1, 1869) and In re Caesar Griffin, 25 Tex. Supp. 623 (Tex. April 1869).

The official summary of the fact and procedural posture of the main case on point was as follows:

Caesar Griffin, a negro, was indicted in the county court of Rockbridge county, for an assault with intent to kill. He removed his case as under the law he had the right to do into the circuit court for that county, and was there tried by a jury which found him guilty and assessed his punishment at imprisonment for two years in the penitentiary. He was accordingly sentenced by the court to that imprisonment While on his way thither, in the custody of the sheriff of Rockbridge county, he sent out this writ which was served on the sheriff. That officer produced the petitioner in the district court then in session in Richmond, and made return to the writ that he held him by virtue of the conviction and sentence of the circuit court for Rockbridge county, making the record of the trial and conviction there a a part of his return. This return the petitioner traversed, denying that there was any court or judge in Rockbridge county as pretended by said pretended record, and that the paper exhibited was any record as alleged. The state of Virginia appearing by the attorney-general, Mr., Judge H. W. Sheffey, the judge of the circuit court for Rockbridge by Bradley T. Johnson, Esq., and the sheriff by James Neeson, Esq. they joined issue on this traverse. The petitioner then proved that Judge Sheffey had been a member of the house of delegates in 1849. That in 1862, he was speaker of the house of delegates, and that his votes were recorded for affording men, money and supplies to support Virginia and the Confederate States, in the war then flagrant with the United States. It was admitted that he was duly appointed on February 22, 1866, by the then government of Virginia, to be judge of the circuit including the county of Rockbridge; that he immediately entered on the duties of that office, and that he has ever since and still is discharging the functions of the same.

The cause was argued at great length in the district court, before the district judge in December, 1868, who ordered the discharge of the petitioner, whereupon an appeal was prayed by the sheriff under the habeas corpus act of 1867 [14 StaL 385], to the circuit court, and the petitioner admitted to bail. Before the circuit court could meet other writs of habeas corpus were sued out by other parties convicted of felonies, two of them of murder, on the same ground as in this case, and the petitioners were discharged. A motion was then made by James Lyons, Esq. in the supreme court of the United States for a writ of prohibition against the district judge, to restrain him from further exercise of such power. The supreme court advised on the motion, and never announced any conclusion, but shortly afterward the chief justice opened the circuit court at Richmond, and immediately called up the appeal in Griffin’s Case. This statement is necessary for a full understanding of the pregnancy of the chief justice’s statement that the supreme court agreed with him as to the decision he rendered in this case. In consequence of the failure to oust the state officers disfranchised under the fourteenth amendment by these and similar judicial proceedings, congress in February, 1869, passed a joint resolution directing that all such officers should be removed by the military commanders of military districts into which the late Confederate States had been divided. Thus all the old officers of the state government of Virginia were removed except a very few, and new ones appointed not obnoxious to the denunciation of the federal bar — the supreme court of appeals of Virginia; the judges thereof having been removed by the major general commanding, he appointed as judges in their stead, a colonel of his staff, and two others, who had held or did then hold commissions in the United States army. The president judge of the court performed his functions and drew his pay as colonel and judge advocate on the staff, overlooking the execution of the laws of the military, and at the same time those of presiding judicial officer of the state.

The procedural posture of the case and its result match your description even though the state does not, and there is a supreme court connection even though it is not a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The West Virginia association is probably a mental mangling of that case with a somewhat similar case from right time frame, a WV murder conviction overturned due to all white jury requirement by U.S. Supreme Court in Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880).

  • 1
    Thank you very much! I am confident that * Griffin's Case,* is the case I had red. I think it was the fact that Judge Sheffey was appointed by the loyalist Virginia Govt then sitting at Wheeling, later the capital of WV, that caused me to remember this as a WV case. Memory is odd. Thanks. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 21:03
  • Why was Texas involved in this case?
    – phoog
    Commented May 28, 2022 at 14:03
  • @phoog presumably that is where the defendant was and there was an extradition request, although it is hard to parse the procedural history from the text and I'm, to be honest, not bothered to figure it out.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 18:10

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