Friday, January 26, 2007

Ableman v. Booth XXI: Justice Crawford on Jury Trial

As I previously noted, Justice Crawford was also troubled by the fact that the Fugitive Slave Act provided that alleged fugitive slaves could be delivered to their alleged masters without a trial by jury. That right was “highly and justly esteemed” and “extends to all persons with the state, regardless of color, and to the fugitive from labor or slavery as to the freeman.” The question remained, however, whether the federal Constitution permitted the summary procedure contemplated by the 1850 Act.

Justice Crawford reluctantly concluded that the Constitution did authorize the summary procedure. He noted that the Fugitive Slave Clause, like
the Extradition Clause which immediately preceded it in Article IV, Section 2, placed a premium on efficiency rather than fairness. He admitted that extradition was different, in that the extradited defendant was entitled to a jury trial in the state to which he was returned. However, he suggested that, at least in theory, a returned alleged slave also had legal remedies available in the state to which he was returned:

“It is true, that in the case of a fugitive from justice, he is given into custody of the officers of justice, with the beneficent presumption of the law in favor of his innocence, until he shall have been duly convicted; while in the case of the fugitive from labor, he is placed under the control of his claimant, to be carried back to the state from which he is charged to have fled, with no presumption in favor of his freedom; but this is, I think, more an argument against the policy and justice and humanity of the law, than against its constitutionality. A case might arise where, by false swearing and conspiracy, a freeman, by the machinery of this law, might be snatched from his liberty and reduced to the condition of slavery, until, by a suitable proceeding, he asserted and obtained his freedom; but so, also, by similar means, an innocent man may be carried away charge with crime, and placed under the necessity of vindicating his innocence in a distant state.”

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