After President Adams extradited Thomas Nash (aka Jonathan Robbins), whom the British then executed, Republicans criticized the President on the grounds that he had usurped judicial authority because extradition was regulated by treaty, and “the Constitution of the United States declares that the Judiciary power shall extend to all questions arising under the Constitution, laws, and treaties, of the United States.” 10 Annals of Congress 533 (1800) (quoting a Republican resolution for censuring the President).
Congressman John Marshall’s defense of the Administration’s actions includes a penetrating discussion of the limited power of the federal judiciary. Marshall argued that the decision whether to extradite Nash “was a case for Executive and not Judicial decision.” 10 Annals of Congress 605 (1800). The report of his floor speech continues:
He [Marshall] admitted implicitly the divisions of powers, stated by the gentleman from New York [who had offered the resolution censuring the President], and that it was the duty of each department to resist the encroachment of the others.
This being established, the inquiry was, to what department was the power in question allotted?
The gentleman from New York had relied on the second section of the third article of the Constitution, which enumerates the cases to which the Judicial power of the United States extends, as expressly including that now under consideration. Before he examined that section, it would not be improper to notice a very material misstatement of it made in the resolutions, offered by the gentleman from New York. By the Constitution, the Judicial power of the United States is extended to all cases in law and equity, arising under the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States; but the resolutions declare that Judicial power to extend to all questions arising under the Constitution, treaties, and laws of the United States. The difference between the Constitution and the resolutions was material and apparent. A case in law or equity was a term well understood, and of limited signification. It was a controversy between parties which had taken a shape for judicial decision. If the Judicial power extended to every question under the Constitution, it would involve almost every subject proper for Legislative discussion and decision; if, to every question under the laws and treaties of the United States, it would involve almost every subject on which the Executive could act. The division of power which the gentleman had stated, could exist no longer, and the other departments would be swallowed up by the Judiciary. But it was apparent that the resolutions had essentially misrepresented the Constitution. He did not charge the gentleman from New York with intentional misrepresentation; he would not attribute to him such an artifice in any case, much less in a case where detection was so easy and so certain. Yet this substantial departure from the Constitution, in resolutions affecting substantially to unite it, was not less worthy of remark for being unintentional. It manifested the course of reasoning by which the gentleman had himself been misled, and his judgment betrayed into the opinions those resolutions expressed. By extending the Judicial power to all cases in law and equity, the Constitution had never been understood to confer on that department any political power whatsoever. To come within this description, a question must assume a legal form for forensic litigation and judicial decision. There must be parties to come into court, who can be reached by its process, and bound by its power; whose rights admit of ultimate decision by a tribunal to which they are bound to submit.
A case in law or equity proper for judicial decision may arise under a treaty, where the rights of individuals acquired or secured by a treaty are to be asserted or defended in court. As under the fourth or sixth article of the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain, or under those articles of our late treaties with France, Prussia, and other nations, which secure to the subjects of those nations their property within the United States; or, as would be an article, which, instead of stipulating to deliver up an offender, should stipulate his punishment, provided the case was punishable by the laws and in the courts of the United States. But the Judicial power cannot extend to political compacts; as the establishment of the boundary line between the American and British dominions; the case of the late guarantee in our Treaty with France, or the case of the delivery of a murderer under the twenty-seventh Article of our present Treaty with Britain.
The gentleman from New York has asked, triumphantly asked, what power exists in our courts to deliver up an individual to a foreign government? Permit me, said Mr. M., but not triumphantly, to retort the question. By what authority can any court render such a judgment? What power does a court possess to seize any individual and determine that he shall be adjudged by a foreign tribunal, yet they must possess it, if this article of the treaty is to be executed by the courts.
(1o Annals of Congress 606-07 (1800) (emphasis added))