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October 1, 1875


ERROR to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Swayne delivered the opinion of the court.

Mr. W. Willoughby and Mr. S. Shellabarger for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. R. T. Daniel, contra.

This suit was brought to determine the validity of the retrocession by Congress to the State of Virginia of that part of the District of Columbia, as originally constituted, which was ceded by Virginia to the United States. The plaintiff in error was the plaintiff in the court below. The case upon which he relies is thus set forth in his declaration:–– In pursuance of the Constitution of the United States, Virginia, by an act of her legislature of Dec. 3, 1789, ceded to the United States that part of her territory subsequently known as the county of Alexandria. Congress passed an act accepting the cession. Maryland ceded to the United States the county of Washington, and Congress accepted that cession also. The two counties constituted a territory ten miles square, which Congress set apart as the seat of the government of the United States, and organized as the District of Columbia, over which the Constitution of the United States required that Congress should exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever. Thereafter, on the 9th of July, 1846, Congress, in violation of the Constitution, passed an act purporting to authorize a vote to be taken by the people of Alexandria County to determine whether the county should be retroceded to the State of Virginia, and declaring, that, in case a majority of the votes should be cast in favor of retrocession, the county should be retroceded and for ever relinquished in full and absolute right and jurisdiction. A majority of the votes were cast for retrocession: whereupon, without any further action by Congress, the State of Virginia passed an act declaring that the county was reannexed, and formed a part of the State. Since that time the State has assumed to exercise full jurisdiction and control over the county, and to authorize the election of officers for the county, among whom is one known as the collector for the township of Washington. The defendant was elected such collector, and assumed to exercise the duties of his office. The State has also assumed to enforce the assessment and collection of taxes upon persons and property in the county. The plaintiff resides in the county, and owns a large amount of real estate and other property there. The defendant alleged that an assessment had been made upon this property; that there was of $165.18; and he demanded payment. In the event of refusal to pay, he would have sold the property pursuant to the law of the State. To prevent the sacrifice which this would have involved, the plaintiff paid the money under protest; notifying the defendant at the time that he regarded the exaction as illegal and unauthorized, upon the ground that the county of Alexandria was not within the jurisdiction of the State of Vir ginia, but that it was within the District of Columbia. He avers that the act of Congress of 1846, before mentioned, every thing done under it, and the law of Virginia reannexing the county to the State and extending her jurisdiction over it, are contrary to the Constitution of the United States, and illegal and void.

The therefore claims to recover the amount so paid to the collector.

The defendant demurred. The court below sustained the demurrer, and gave judgment for the defendant.

The question presented for our determination is, whether there was error in this ruling.

The law of prescription applies to nations with the same effect as between individuals. Lawrence's Wheat. 303, 304; Vattel, b. 2, c. 11, sects. 141, 146, 147, 149.

In cases involving the action of the political departments of the government, the judiciary is bound by such action. Williams v. The Suffolk Ins. Co., 13 Pet. 420; Garcia v. Lee, 12 Pet. 511; Kennet v. Chamberlain, 14 How. 38; Foster v. Nelson, 2 Pet. 209; Nabob of the Carnatic v. The East Ind. Co., 2 Ves., Jr., 60; Luther v. Borden, 7 How. 1; Rhode Island v. Massachusetts, 12 Pet. 714.

The judiciary recognizes the condition of things with respect to the government of another country which once existed as still subsisting, unless the political department of its own government has decided otherwise. Kennet v. Chambers, 7 How. 38.

For certain purposes, the States of the Union are regarded as foreign to each other. Buckner v. Finley, 2 Pet. 590; Warden v. Arrel, 2 Wash. (Va.) 298.

Under certain circumstances, a constitutional provision may, like a forfeiture, be waived by a party entitled to insist upon it. 6 Hill, 48; 24 Wend. 337; 3 Comst. 199, 511; 18 Barb. 585.

The acts of an officer de facto, within the sphere of the powers and duties of the office he assumes to hold, are as valid and binding with respect to the public and third persons as if they had been done by an officer de jure. Elwood v. Monk, 6 East, 235; King v. Corp. Bedford, 6 East, 368; Tucker v. Aiken, 7 N. H. 134; Fowler v. Babe, 9 Mass. 231; Com. v. Fowler, 10 id. 291; People v. Collins, 7 J. R. 549. These propositions were referred to in the discussion at the bar, and we have not overlooked them.

But we do not invoke their aid, and have found it unnecessary to consider the effect of ...

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