Why is a 1781 Opinion from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1 U.S.?

August 3rd, 2010

The case of Respublica v. Chapman, 1 U.S. 53, 1 Dall. 53 (PA 1781) is a case the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered during the midst of the American Revolution. Yet, this case was selected for publication in the U.S. Reports. Anyone have any clue why? Are there are any other state court opinions–let alone opinions that predate our Constitution by 6 years–in the US Reports? Fascinating case too.

Chapman was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. On December 26, 1776, following what must have been an eventful Christmas, Chapman “departed and joined” the enemy.” In a proclamation dated June 15, 1778, the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania—a body later led by Benjamin Frankin—ordered the “attainder of divers traitors.” The Attorney General accused Chapman of being “an inhabitant and subject of” Pennsylvania, and thus was a traitor. Chapman replied that he was a “subject of the king of Great Britain” and “been a subject or inhabitant of” Pennsylvania.

Counsel for Chapman argued that “on the 26th December, 1776, there was no government established in Pennsylvania, from which he could receive protection; and consequently, there was none to which he could owe allegiance protection and allegiance being political obligations of a reciprocal nature.” The Attorney General countered that “By the declaration of independence, on the 4th July, 1776, every State in the union was solemnly declared to be free and independent,” and on “the 26th day of December, 1776 . . . [Chapman] was certainly a subject of the state of Pennsylvania, under the constitution agreed to on the 28th day of September preceding.” Chief Justice M’Kean sought to determine whether Chapman “was to be considered as an inhabitant and subject of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, at the time of his departure.”

This is another interesting case in my research on the original meaning of the “Citizenship” clause in Article I.

Update: The venerable Carl Edman fills me in:

Volokh covered that issue some years ago. http://volokh.com/2006/05/08/little-known-weird-legal-fact-leads-to-glitch-in-court-of-appeals-opinion/ But don’t feel bad about it, young man–even some courts of appeals appear to be unaware of this little nicety.

Technically, this also means that–according to the Blue Book–whenever you cite to a U.S. Supreme Court case in the U.S. reporter, you should insert “S. Ct.” before the year as the fact that the case is in the U.S. Reporter by itself does not establish that the opinion is one of the U.S. Supreme Court. Not that I have ever seen anybody do that.

Lousy Blue Book.