No. 189.

194 U.S. 147 (1904)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided April 25, 1904.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. John S. Wise for plaintiffs in error.

Mr. William A. Anderson and Mr. Frank W. Christian for defendants in error.

MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

Mills v. Green, 159 U.S. 651, is decisive, and compels a dismissal of the writ of error. That was a suit in equity, alleging the calling of a convention to revise the constitution of South Carolina and seeking to enjoin an alleged illegal, partial and void registration by which the plaintiff, and others like him, would be deprived of the right to vote for delegates to the convention. An injunction was granted by the Circuit Court, but was dissolved by the Circuit Court of Appeals and the suit dismissed. Thereupon the election was held, the convention met and entered upon the discharge of its duties. An appeal to this court from the order of dismissal made by the Circuit Court of Appeals was dismissed on the ground that the object of the suit could no longer be attained. Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the opinion, said (pp. 653, 657, 658):

"The duty of this court, as of every other judicial tribunal, is to decide actual controversies by a judgment which can be carried into effect, and not to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it. It necessarily follows that when, pending an appeal from the judgment of a lower court, and without any fault of the defendant, an event occurs which renders it impossible for this court, if it should decide the case in favor of the plaintiff, to grant him any effectual relief whatever, the court will not proceed to a formal judgment, but will dismiss the appeal. . . . In the case at bar the whole object of the bill was to secure a right to vote at the election, to be held, as the bill alleged, on the third Tuesday of August, 1895, of delegates to the constitutional convention of South Carolina. Before this appeal was taken by the plaintiff from the decree of the Circuit Court of Appeals dismissing his bill, that date had passed; and, before the entry of the appeal in this court, the convention had assembled, pursuant to the statute of South Carolina of 1894, by which the convention had been called. 21 Stat. S.C. pp. 802, 803. The election of the delegates and the assembling of the convention are public matters, to be taken notice of by the court, without formal plea or proof. . . . It is obvious, therefore, that, even if the bill could properly be held to present a case within the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, no relief within the scope of the bill could now be granted."

See also Codlin v. Kohlhausen, 181 U.S. 151; Tennessee v. Condon, 189 U.S. 64.

The case before us is one in prohibition. It is so declared by the petitioners in their petition, and the thing sought to be prohibited was a canvass of the votes cast at the election on November 4, 1902. The facts alleged in respect to the constitution, the purpose of the dominant party, the action of the convention, the refusal to submit the proposed constitution to the vote of the people, and the registration ordinance, were all stated for the purpose of showing that the election on November 4, 1902, was illegal, and that there ought to be no canvass of the returns cast at that election. The prayer of the petitioners specifically is to retain such canvass. Even the general clause at the close of the prayer is "for such other and further orders in the premises as shall and may make the prayer of your petitioners effectual." But — as shown by the affidavit, and as indeed we might perhaps take judicial notice by the presence in the House of Representatives of the individuals elected at that election from the various Congressional districts of Virginia — the thing sought to be prohibited has been done and cannot be undone by any order of court. The canvass has been made, certificates of election have been issued, the House of Representatives (which is the sole judge of the qualifications of its members) has admitted the parties holding the certificates to seats in that body, and any adjudication which this court might make would be only an ineffectual decision of the question whether or not these petitioners were wronged by what has been fully accomplished. Under those circumstances there is nothing but a moot case remaining, and the motion to dismiss must be sustained.

Dismissed without costs to either party.


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