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No court can with propriety pass a decree which it cannot enforce.[Footnote: Clarke's Appeal from Probate, 70 Conn. Reports, 195, 209; 39 Atlantic Reporter, 155; 178 U. S. Reports, 186.] After the judgment comes the issue of appropriate process to compel obedience to it, unless such obedience (as is generally the case) is voluntarily rendered.

The whole power of government is at the command of the court for this purpose. A sheriff with a judicial process to serve who meets with resistance can summon to his aid the _posse comitatus_. By this term is meant the whole power of his county; that is, any or all of its able-bodied inhabitants on whom he may choose to call. Not to respond to such a call is a legal offense. The marshals have similar powers in serving process from the Federal courts.

The fact that there is this force behind a writ is so well understood by the community that occasions for resorting to its use, or indeed to the use of any actual force, are extremely rare. If the process was lawfully issued, it would be useless to resist. If unlawfully, it is easier and safer to seek relief by an injunction, or in case of an arrest, by a writ of _habeas corpus_. But there have been occasions in the judicial history of the United States when, under the influence of a general popular ferment, the service of process from the courts, and even the holding of courts, have been forcibly prevented.

Shay's Rebellion in Massachusetts (in 1786) was the first of these after the Revolution. Similar uprisings of less importance took place at about the same time in New Hampshire and Vermont. A few years later, the service of process from the New York courts was interrupted in Columbia County. There was a strip of territory adjoining the Hudson River, title to which was claimed both by New York and Massachusetts. Conflicting claims, awaking much bitter feeling, arose under grants from each government. In 1791, the sheriff of Columbia County was ordered by the courts, in the course of a lawsuit, to sell a tract of this land. Seventeen persons disguised as Indians appeared at the time of sale to resist it, and he was killed by a shot from one of them.[Footnote: Report Am. Historical Association for 1896, I, 152, note.]

Then came the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. The statutes of the United States[Footnote: United States Revised Statues, 5299.] provide that if their courts meet with opposition of a serious nature, the President may use the army or call out the militia of one or more States to restore order. Opposition to the enforcement of the revenue tax on whiskey in 1794 called for the first exercise of this power. Marshals were resisted in serving process, and several counties were in a state of insurrection. Washington sent so large a force of troops to suppress it that the rioters vanished on their approach, and there was no further obstruction of the ordinary course of justice. The total expense to the government in this affair was nearly $1,000,000.[Footnote: Wharton's "State Trials," 102.] In 1799, somewhat similar opposition arose in the same State against the enforcement of the house taxes laid by Congress. President Adams here also sent a sufficient force of militia to suppress it.[Footnote: _Ibid_., 48, 459.]

In 1839, a general combination was formed among the tenant farmers in New York holding long or perpetual leases from manorial proprietors to resist the payment of the stipulated rents. In several counties the greater part of the land was occupied under such a tenure. The design was to compel the landlords to sell to the existing tenants at a price fixed by public appraisal, or else that the State should take the lands by eminent domain and dispose of them to the same persons on reasonable terms. Sheriffs were forcibly prevented from serving writs in dispossession proceedings. One who took with him a _posse comitatus_ of five hundred armed men, a hundred of whom were mounted, was met and turned back by a larger band, who were all mounted. The Governor was finally compelled to issue a proclamation against the "up-renters," as they were called, and to protect the sheriff by a large body of militia. Put down in one county, the movement soon reappeared in others. Disguises were assumed, the rioters figuring under Indian names and wearing more or less of the Indian garb. Three hundred of them, with twice that number not in disguise, prevented a sheriff from levying an execution for rent on tenants upon the Livingston manor. For six years the contest went on in several counties. Several lives were lost on both sides. Sheriff's officers were tarred and feathered and their writs destroyed. Of the rioters many were arrested and prosecuted from time to time and some convicted. Five were sent to the State's prison for life. Two were sentenced to be hanged. The State used its militia freely to defend the sheriffs, at a cost in one county of over $60,000, and in 1845 a series of prosecutions and convictions, resulting in over eighty sentences at one term of court, broke the back of the insurrection. It died half-victorious, however, for an "anti-rent" Governor and Lieutenant-Governor were elected the next year, and several statutory changes in the law of leases which the malcontents had desired were soon afterwards enacted.[Footnote: See Paper by David Murray on the "Anti-rent Episode in New York," Report of the American Historical Association for 1896, I, 139.]

During the period of reconstruction in the Southern States, following the civil war, the courts were repeatedly broken up by violence and the service of legal process resisted, in some instances by authority of the military Governor.[Footnote: S. S. Cox, "Three Decades of Federal Legislation," 469, 472, 495, 496, 509, 544, 565.]

The writ to enforce the judgment of a court of law is called an execution. It is directed to the sheriff or other proper executive officer, and requires him to seize and sell the defendant's property or, as the case may be, to arrest and imprison him, to turn him out of possession of certain lands, or to take some other active step against one who has been adjudged in the wrong, in order to right the wrong, as the judgment may command.

A judgment for equitable relief is not ordinarily the subject of an execution.[Footnote: See Chap. VIII.]

A judgment at law is generally to the effect that one of the parties shall recover certain money or goods or land from the other. On the prevailing party lies the burden of moving to get possession of what has thus been adjudged to be due. This he does by taking out an execution. A judgment in equity is an order on the defendant to do or not to do some particular act. It is now an affair between him and the court. He must obey this mandate or he will be treating the court with disrespect.

To treat a court with disrespect, or, in legal parlance, to be in contempt of court, is to incur very serious responsibilities. It is in the nature of a criminal wrong, for it is a direct opposition to the expressed will of the State. Whoever is guilty of it makes himself liable to arrest and to be subjected to fine or imprisonment. If, for instance, an injunction is obtained in a suit for the infringement of a patent right, it becomes at once the duty of the defendant to desist from making or selling what the plaintiff has proved that he only can lawfully make and sell. If he does not desist, the plaintiff can complain to the court, and if after a preliminary hearing it appears that his complaint is well founded, can obtain a warrant of arrest, styled a "process of attachment." On this, the proper officer takes the defendant into custody, and brings him before the court to answer for violating the injunction order. If the case is an aggravated one, he will be both fined and imprisoned, and the imprisonment will be in the common jail for such time as the court may order.

It is the sting in the tail of an injunction that makes it especially formidable. The debtor who fails to pay to the sheriff, when demand is made upon an execution, a judgment for money damages commits no contempt of court. The man who keeps on doing what a court of equity has forbidden him to do does commit one.

A conspicuous instance of the efficacy of an injunction was furnished by the great Chicago railroad strike and boycott of 1894, initiated by the American Railway Union. Mob violence followed. More than a thousand freight cars were burned. Trains were derailed, passengers fired at, and lives lost. The officers of the union, after two or three weeks, wrote to the managers of the railroads principally affected, describing the strike as threatening "not only every public interest, but the peace, security and prosperity of our common country."[Footnote: United States _v._ Debs, 64 Federal Reporter, 724, 729.] A temporary injunction was issued against these officers and others by the Circuit Court of the United States in an equitable action brought by the United States under the direction of the Attorney-General. They disobeyed the injunction. Their arrest for this contempt of court promptly followed. This stopped the flood at its source. To quote from testimony given a few weeks later by Mr. Debs, the President of the Union, "As soon as the employees found that we were arrested and taken from the scene of action, they became demoralized and that ended the strike.... The men went back to work and the ranks were broken and the strike was broken up,... not by the army, and not by any other power, but simply and solely by the action of the United States court in restraining us from discharging our duties as officers and representatives of our employees."[Footnote: United States _v._ Debs, 64 Federal Reporter, 724, 759.] The defendants in the contempt proceedings having been found guilty and sentenced to jail for terms varying from three to six months, appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, but without avail.[Footnote: _In re_ Debs, 158 U. S. Reports, 564, 600.]

Injunctions not infrequently are granted as an equitable relief against a legal judgment. _Summum jus, summa injuria_ is an ancient maxim of the courts. The foundation of equitable jurisdiction is that courts of law cannot always do justice. One may, for instance, be invited to build a house on another's land, and promised a deed of the site. He builds the house and then is refused a deed. The invitation and promise were by word of mouth. The rules of law make such a house the legal property of the landowner. The rules of equity make it the equitable property of the man who built it on the faith of the landowner's invitation and promise. If the latter sue at law for the possession of the house, he may get judgment, but equity will prevent his enforcing the judgment, not because it is not a legal judgment, but because he is endeavoring to make an inequitable use of a legal right.

A court of equity sometimes makes a decree establishing a title. To enforce such a judgment, a writ may be issued, called a writ of assistance. It is directed to the sheriff and requires him to do some specific act, such as putting the defendant out of possession of certain lands and turning it over to the plaintiff.

It is, as appears from instances which have been given, possible that the execution of process from the courts may be defeated by violence which they cannot overcome. It is possible in fact though impossible in theory. As the sheriff can employ the _posse comitatus_, he ought always to have an overwhelming force at his command. But it is easier to "call spirits from the vasty deep" than to make them respond. Public feeling may be so strong in opposition to the service of the process that mob violence will be tolerated and even openly supported. An armed mob can only be effectually met by an armed force which is not a mob--that is, by disciplined soldiers.

The sheriff, if so opposed, may call upon the Governor of the State for military assistance. How efficient it will prove will, of course, depend on the discipline of the militia and the firmness of its commanding officers. It is seldom that it fails to restore order, if the men carry loaded guns and are directed to fire at the first outbreak of forcible resistance.

But the Governor may refuse to comply with the sheriff's request. In such case, the execution of the process of the court fails because of want, not of power, but of the will to exercise it on the part of those on whom that duty rests. In every government constituted by a distribution of the supreme authority between different departments, each of them must do its part loyally with respect to the others, or the whole scheme, for the time being, breaks down.

In the United States this danger is doubly great because of the interdependence of the general government and the particular States. Judicial process may issue from a State court against those who oppose its execution under claim of authority from the United States; or from a federal Court against those who oppose its execution under claim of authority from a State. Some instances of such conflicts of jurisdiction have been already mentioned.[Footnote: Chap. X.]

When the Supreme Court of the United States reverses a judgment of a State court, it can either[Footnote: U. S. Revised Statutes, Sec. 709.] itself render the judgment which the State court ought to have rendered, and issue execution, or remand the cause to it with directions that this be done. If the latter course be taken, the directions may be disobeyed. A Georgia court was guilty of this contumacy in the case of Worcester _v._ Georgia.[Footnote: 6 Peters' Reports, 515, 596.] If the former course be taken, the service of the execution may be resisted by the power of the State.

Worcester was illegally confined in the Georgia penitentiary. The sentence against him had been set aside and the indictment adjudged to furnish no ground of prosecution. But if the Supreme Court had rendered a judgment dismissing the prosecution, and given a writ to the marshal directing him to set Worcester at liberty, the officer would have found the prison doors shut in his face. Every prison is a fortress, so built as to prevent rescue from without as well as escape from within. To lay siege to one would be too great an enterprise for the marshal to undertake without military assistance. For this the President could have been called upon. But he might have refused it. If so, the judgment of the judicial department would have proved inoperative, simply because the officer charged with the duty of rendering it operative had declined to fulfil that duty.

The Supreme Court, in the Worcester case, probably had reason to believe that if it had directed a call on President Jackson for a military force it would have been refused. It is reported that the President, in private conversation, intimated as much. Possibly he might have been justified in the refusal. South Carolina was on the brink of war with the United States. Georgia was her next neighbor, and might have been induced to make common cause with her, if Jackson had battered down the doors of her penitentiary to release a man who, her courts insisted, had been properly convicted of a serious crime. A court can do nothing short of justice. The executive power, perhaps, may sometimes rightly act or decline to act from motives of national policy.

In one instance the armed forces of a State were actually engaged, under the authority of the legislature, in forcibly resisting the service of process from the federal courts. It was in 1809, when the marshal in Pennsylvania was opposed by a large body of the militia called out by order of the Governor for the purpose. Their commanding officer was subsequently arrested and convicted for the offense in the Circuit Court of the United States.[Footnote: Wharton's State Trials, 48; McMaster, "History of the People of the U. S.," V, 405; Willoughby, "The American Constitutional System," 41, 43.]

In 1859, the Governor of Ohio refused to honor a requisition from the Governor of Kentucky for the surrender of a fugitive from justice. The act charged was assisting a slave to escape. This was a crime in the State from which the man had fled, but not in the State where he had found refuge. The Supreme Court of the United States was asked by Kentucky to compel the surrender. It held that the Governor had violated his duty, but that the Constitution of the United States furnished no means for enforcing its performance by him.[Footnote: Kentucky _v._ Dennison, 24 Howard's Reports, 66, 109.] Under the shelter of this doctrine, a man indicted for murder in Kentucky has been for several recent years residing in safety in Indiana, because the Governor of that State has refused to comply with repeated requisitions for his surrender.

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Every court of record while in session has inherent power to compel all who appear before it to preserve order, to obey its lawful commands issued in due course of judicial procedure, and to refrain from any expressions of disrespect to its authority, under pain of fine or imprisonment, or both. This power, unless withdrawn by statute, belongs to any justice of the peace who has authority to hold a court of record, while he is holding one. Commonly it is, in his case, regulated by statute.[Footnote: Church _v._ Pearne, 75 Conn. Reports, 350; 53 Atlantic Reporter, 955.]

At common law, superior courts of record also have power during the progress of a cause to repress or punish any disrespectful acts or words done or uttered, not in its presence, but so near to it as to constitute a breach of order or tend directly to lessen its efficiency. These are deemed powers inherent in such a court, because necessary to support its proper dignity and independence. Statutes are common to define or restrict them, but they cannot take them away altogether. To do so would be to take away an essential incident of the judicial power. Nor can they so far reduce the penalty that may be inflicted as to deprive the court of a reasonable measure of the right of self-protection.[Footnote: Batchelder _v._ Moore, 42 California Reports, 412.] It is, to say the least, doubtful if they can even restrict its exercise by any court created by the Constitution itself.[Footnote: State _v._ Morrill, 16 Arkansas Reports, 384; State _v._ Shepherd, 177 Missouri Reports, 205; 76 Southwestern Reporter, 79; _Ex parte_ Robinson, 19 Wallace's Reports, 505, 510.]

The accused is not entitled as of right to a trial by jury. The judge is the best guardian of the dignity of the court.[Footnote: _In re_ Debs, 158 U. S. Reports, 564, 595.]

The rule of criminal law that to convict a man of crime requires proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt applies to all proceedings of contempt. The accused is also allowed to go free on giving bail until final sentence, if that is to be preceded by any preliminary inquiry involving adjournments from day to day. No such inquiry is necessary when the contempt is plain and was committed in the presence of the court.

In the courts of the United States and in most of the States no appeal is allowed for errors in law from a summary sentence of punishment for a contempt of court. Appeals lie only from final judgments in a cause, and such a sentence for contempt is not so regarded.[Footnote: _ex parte_ Bradley, 7 Wallace's Reports, 364, 376.] If the contempt be (as it may be) made the subject of a formal criminal prosecution and a jury trial, an appeal is allowed.

A punishment inflicted for contempt, even though it goes beyond the rightful jurisdiction of the court in such a matter, is a judicial act, and does not expose the judge passing the sentence to an action for damages.[Footnote: Bradley _v._ Fisher, 13 Wallace's Reports, 335.]