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Case Basics
Plaintiff in error 
Stephen V. R. Ableman
Defendant in error 
Sherman Booth
United States v. Booth
(Attorney General of the United States, argued the cause for the plaintiffs in error)
Facts of the Case 

Sherman Booth petitioned a local court judge for the release of Joshua Glover, a runaway slave held in federal custody in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Though the federal authorities did not accept the judge's order, a mob eventually freed Glover. Booth was charged with aiding the escape of a runaway slave in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Booth then successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of Wisconsin for his release, through a writ of habeas corpus. Booth was then convicted in the United States District Court for the District of Wisconsin and detained again. Booth again petitioned the Supreme Court of Wisconsin for his release, alleging that the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional and that the Federal District Court lacked jurisdiction. Booth was again released by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The United States appealed to the Supreme Court.


Did the Supreme Court of Wisconsin have the authority to issue the writs of habeas corpus that released Booth?


No. In a unanimous decision, the Court reversed the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court asserted the supremacy of federal courts on issues of federal law. The Court dismissed Wisconsin's claim of judicial power, since "it certainly has not been conferred on them by the United States; and it is equally clear it was not in the power of the State to confer it." Chief Justice Taney relied on the Constitution in that it is "the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby." While the state courts of Wisconsin certainly did have authority to issue writs of habeas corpus to cases where the prisoner was held by the state of Wisconsin, the authority did not extend to prisoners held by the federal government.

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