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Case Basics
Facts of the Case 

In 1841, Rhode Island was still operating under an archaic system of government established by a royal charter of 1663. The charter strictly limited suffrage and made no provision for amendment. Dissident groups, protesting the charter, held a popular convention to draft a new constitution and to elect a governor. The old charter government declared martial law and put down the rebellion, although no federal troops were sent. One of the insurgents, Martin Luther, brought suit claiming the old government was not "a republican form of government" and all its acts were thereby invalid.


Did the Court have the constitutional authority to declare which group constituted the official government of Rhode Island?


The Court held that "the power of determining that a state government has been lawfully established" did not belong to federal courts, and that it was not the function of such courts to prescribe the qualifications for voting in the States. The Court held that the creation of republican forms of government and the control of domestic violence were matters of an essentially political nature committed by the Constitution to the other branches of government. Hence, the Court should defer to Congress and the President when confronted with such issues.

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LUTHER v. BORDEN. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <>.
LUTHER v. BORDEN, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 25, 2015).
"LUTHER v. BORDEN," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015,