Burns v. Wilson, 346 U.S. 137 (1953)

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Author: Justice Frankfurter

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Burns v. Wilson, 346 U.S. 137 (1953)

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER.

This case raises questions of great delicacy and difficulty. On the one hand is proper regard for habeas corpus, "the great writ of liberty"; on the other hand, the duty of civil courts to abstain from intervening in matters constitutionally committed to military justice. The case comes to us on a division of opinion in the Court of Appeals. In the interest of enabling indigent litigants to have the case reviewed in this Court without incurring the enormous cost of printing, we have required to be brought here only one copy of a record consisting of a mass of materials in their original form. Consideration of the case has fallen at the close of the Term. Obviously it has not been possible for every member of the Court to examine such a record. In any event, there has not been time for its consideration by me. An examination of it, however, is imperative in view of what seem to me to be the essential issues to be canvassed. I can now only outline the legal issues that are implicit in the case.

The right to invoke habeas corpus to secure freedom is not to be confined by any a priori or technical notions of "jurisdiction." See my dissent in Sunal v. Large, 332 U.S. 174, 184. And so, if imprisonment is the result of a denial of due process, it may be challenged no matter under what authority of Government it was brought about. Congress itself, in the exercise of the war power, "is subject to applicable constitutional limitations." Hamilton v. Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Co., 251 U.S. 146, 156. It is therefore not freed from the requirements of due process of the Fifth Amendment. But there is no table of weights and measures for ascertaining what constitutes due process. Indeed, it was common ground, in the majority and dissenting opinions below, that due process, in the language of Judge Bazelon, is not "the same in a military setting as it is in a civil setting." 202 F.2d at 352.

I cannot agree that the only inquiry that is open on an application for habeas corpus challenging a sentence of a military tribunal is whether that tribunal was legally constituted and had jurisdiction, technically speaking, over the person and the crime. Again, I cannot agree that the scope of inquiry is the same as that open to us on review of State convictions; the content of due process in civil trials does not control what is due process in military trials. Nor is the duty of the civil courts upon habeas corpus met simply when it is found that the military sentence has been reviewed by the military hierarchy, although, in a debatable situation, we should no doubt attach more weight to the conclusions reached on controversial facts by military appellate courts than to those reached by the highest court of a State.

In the light of these considerations, I cannot assume the responsibility, where life is at stake, of concurring in the judgment of the Court. Equally, however, I would not feel justified in reversing the judgment. My duty, as I see it, is to resolve the dilemma by doing neither. It is my view that this is not just a case involving individuals. Issues of far-reaching import are at stake which call for further consideration. They were not explored in all their significance in the submissions made to the Court. While this case arose prior to the new Code of Military Justice, 64 Stat. 107, it necessarily will have a strong bearing upon the relations of the civil courts to the new Court of Military Appeals. The short of it is that I believe this case should be set down for reargument.

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Chicago: Frankfurter, "Frankfurter, J., Separate Opinion," Burns v. Wilson, 346 U.S. 137 (1953) in 346 U.S. 137 346 U.S. 149–346 U.S. 150. Original Sources, accessed February 24, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SV9UCKHZ5VIZAV.

MLA: Frankfurter. "Frankfurter, J., Separate Opinion." Burns v. Wilson, 346 U.S. 137 (1953), in 346 U.S. 137, pp. 346 U.S. 149–346 U.S. 150. Original Sources. 24 Feb. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SV9UCKHZ5VIZAV.

Harvard: Frankfurter, 'Frankfurter, J., Separate Opinion' in Burns v. Wilson, 346 U.S. 137 (1953). cited in 1953, 346 U.S. 137, pp.346 U.S. 149–346 U.S. 150. Original Sources, retrieved 24 February 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SV9UCKHZ5VIZAV.