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ESTEP v. UNITED STATES

decided: February 4, 1946.

ESTEP
v.
UNITED STATES



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.*fn*

Stone, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Rutledge, Burton; Jackson took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.

Author: Douglas

[ 327 U.S. Page 115]

 MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Falbo v. United States, 320 U.S. 549, we held that in a criminal prosecution under § 11 of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 (54 Stat. 894, 50 U. S. C. App. § 311) a registrant could not defend on the ground that he was wrongfully classified and was entitled to a statutory exemption, where the offense was a failure to report for induction into the armed forces or for work of national importance.*fn1 We found no provision for judicial

[ 327 U.S. Page 116]

     review of a registrant's classification prior to the time when he had taken all the steps in the selective process and had been finally accepted by the armed services. The question in these cases is whether there may be judicial review of his classification in a prosecution under § 11 where he reported for induction, was finally accepted, but refused to submit to induction.

Estep's local board classified him as I-A, i. e., as available for military service.*fn2 Sec. 5 (d) of the Act exempts from training and service (but not from registration) "Regular or duly ordained ministers of religion . . ." Under the regulations those in that category are classified as IV-D.*fn3 Estep, a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, claimed that he was entitled to that classification. The local board ruled against him. He took his case to the appeal board which classified him as I-A.*fn4 He then asked the State and National Directors of Selective Service to appeal to the President for him.*fn5 His request was refused. The local board thereupon ordered him to report for induction. He reported at the time and place indicated. He was accepted by the Navy. But he refused to be inducted, claiming that he was exempt from service because he was an ordained minister of the gospel.

[ 327 U.S. Page 117]

     He was indicted under § 11 of the Act for wilfully failing and refusing to submit to induction.*fn6 He sought to defend on the ground that as a Jehovah's Witness he was a minister of religion and that he had been improperly denied exemption from service, because the classifying agencies acted arbitrarily and capriciously in refusing to classify him as IV-D. He also claimed that his right to an effective appeal had been denied because the local board unlawfully withheld certain relevant documents from the appeal board and included improper material in the record on appeal. The district court rejected these defenses and did not permit the introduction of evidence to sustain Estep's contention. The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of five years. On appeal the circuit court of appeals affirmed, on a divided vote. 150 F.2d 768.

Smith, like Estep, is a member of Jehovah's Witnesses. He claimed exemption from all service on the ground that he was a minister of religion. His local board placed him in Class I-A, as available for military service. His classification was affirmed by the appeal board. On appeal to the President his classification was again affirmed. The local board then ordered him to report for induction. He reported to the induction station, was accepted by the military, but refused to be inducted, claiming he was exempt from service because he was a minister. He was inducted against his will and later was held for trial by a general court-martial for disobedience of military orders. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus which was denied. Smith v. Richart, 53 F.Supp. 582. While his

[ 327 U.S. Page 118]

     appeal was pending, we decided Billings v. Truesdell, 321 U.S. 542. He was thereupon released from military custody and indicted for violation of § 11 of the Act. At the trial he sought to attack the classification given him by his local board, claiming, among other things, that it acted without any foundation of fact, discriminated against him because he was a Jehovah's Witness, and denied him the right to make full proof of his claim that he was a minister of religion. The court ruled that no such defense could be tendered. Smith was found guilty by the jury and a sentence of three and one-half years was imposed. The judgment of conviction was affirmed on appeal. 148 F.2d 288.

The cases are here on petitions for writs of certiorari which we granted because of the importance of the question presented.

Congress entrusted the administration of the Selective Service System to civilian agencies, not to the military. It authorized the President to create and establish a Selective Service System and to establish civilian local boards and appeal boards to administer it. § 10 (a) (2). The Selective Service System was designed to "provide for the classification of registrants and of persons who volunteer for induction under this Act on the basis of availability for training and service . . ." Id. Congress specified certain restricted classes for deferment*fn7 or exemption from service, including in the latter, as we have said, "Regular or duly ordained ministers of religion . . ." § 5. The President was authorized to provide for the deferment of other classes by rules and regulations.*fn8 § 5

[ 327 U.S. Page 119]

     (e). And the local boards "under rules and regulations prescribed by the President" were granted the "power within their respective jurisdictions to hear and determine, subject to the right of appeal to the appeal boards herein authorized, all questions or claims with respect to inclusion for, or exemption or deferment from, training and service under this Act of all individuals within the jurisdiction of such local boards." § 10 (a) (2). The Act makes no provision in terms for judicial review of the actions of the local boards or the appeal boards. For § 10 (a) (2) states that the "decisions of such local boards shall be final except where an appeal is authorized in accordance with such rules and regulations as the President may prescribe."*fn9

By the terms of the Act Congress enlisted the aid of the federal courts only for enforcement purposes. Sec. 11 makes criminal a wilful failure to perform any duty required of a registrant by the Act or the rules or regulations made under it. An order to report for induction is such a duty; and it includes the duty to submit to induction. Billings v. Truesdell, supra, p. 557. Sec. 11 confers jurisdiction on the district courts to try one charged with such offense. But § 11 is silent when it comes to the defenses, if any, which may be interposed.

Thus we start with a statute which makes no provision for judicial review of the actions of the local boards or the appeal agencies. That alone, of course, is not decisive.

[ 327 U.S. Page 120]

     For the silence of Congress as to judicial review is not necessarily to be construed as a denial of the power of the federal courts to grant relief in the exercise of the general jurisdiction which Congress has conferred upon them. American School of Healing v. McAnnulty, 187 U.S. 94; Gegiow v. Uhl, 239 U.S. 3; Stark v. Wickard, 321 U.S. 288. Judicial review may indeed be required by the Constitution. Ng Fung Ho v. White, 259 U.S. 276. Apart from constitutional requirements, the question whether judicial review will be provided where Congress is silent depends on the whole setting of the particular statute and the scheme of regulation which is adopted. Switchmen's Union v. Mediation Board, 320 U.S. 297, 301. And except when the Constitution requires it, judicial review of administrative action may be granted or withheld as Congress chooses.

The authority of the local boards whose orders are the basis of these criminal prosecutions is circumscribed both by the Act and by the regulations. Their authority to hear and determine all questions of deferment or exemption is, as stated in § 10 (a) (2), limited to action "within their respective jurisdictions." It is only orders "within their respective jurisdictions" that are made final. It would seem, therefore, that if a Pennsylvania board ordered a citizen and resident of Oregon to report for induction, the defense that it acted beyond its jurisdiction could be interposed in a prosecution under § 11. That case would be comparable to Tung v. United States, 142 F.2d 919, where the local board ordered a registrant to report for induction without allowing him the appeal to which he was entitled under the regulations. Since § 10 (a) (2) makes the decisions of the local boards final "except where an appeal is authorized" under the regulations, the defense was allowed in the criminal trial.

Any other case where a local board acts so contrary to its granted authority as to exceed its jurisdiction*fn10 does

[ 327 U.S. Page 121]

     not stand on a different footing. By § 10 (a) (2) the local boards, in hearing and determining claims for deferment or exemption, must act "under rules and regulations prescribed by the President . . ." Those rules limit, as well as define, their jurisdiction. One of those regulations forbids the local boards from basing their classification of a registrant on a discrimination "for or against him because of his race, creed, or color, or because of his membership or activity in any labor, political, religious, or other organization." 623.1. Another provides, in accordance with the mandate contained in § 5 (c) (1) of the Act, for the deferment of governors of States and members of Congress while they hold their offices.*fn11 622.42. Another provides that the local board "shall reopen and consider anew the classification of a registrant" on the written request of the State Director or the Director and upon receipt of the request "shall immediately cancel" any order to report for induction or for work of national importance. 626.2-1. If a local board ordered a member of Congress to report for induction, or if it classified a registrant as available for military service because he was a Jew, or a German, or a Negro, it would act in defiance of the law. If a local board refused to reopen on the written request of the State Director a registrant's classification and refused to cancel its order to report for induction, it would be acting in the teeth of the regulations. In all such cases its action would be lawless and beyond its jurisdiction.

We cannot read § 11 as requiring the courts to inflict punishment on registrants for violating whatever orders the local boards might issue. We cannot believe that Congress intended that criminal sanctions were to be applied to orders issued by local boards no matter how flagrantly they violated the rules and regulations which define their jurisdiction. We are dealing here with a

[ 327 U.S. Page 122]

     question of personal liberty. A registrant who violates the Act commits a felony.*fn12 A felon customarily suffers the loss of substantial rights.*fn13 Sec. 11, being silent on the matter, leaves the question of available defenses in doubt. But we are loath to resolve those doubts against the accused. We cannot readily infer that Congress departed so far from the traditional concepts of a fair trial when it made the actions of the local boards "final" as to provide that a citizen of this country should go to jail for not obeying an unlawful order of an administrative agency. We are loath to believe that Congress reduced criminal trials under the Act to proceedings so barren of the customary safeguards which the law has designed for the protection of the accused. The provision making the decisions of the local boards "final" means to us that Congress chose not to give administrative action under this Act the customary scope of judicial review which obtains under other statutes. It means that the courts are not to weigh the evidence to determine whether the classification made by the local boards was justified. The decisions of the local boards made in conformity with the regulations are final even though they may be erroneous. The question of jurisdiction of the local board is reached only if there is no basis in fact for the classification which it gave

[ 327 U.S. Page 123]

     the registrant.*fn14 See Goff v. United States, 135 F.2d 610, 612.

Falbo v. United States, supra, does not preclude such a defense in the present cases. In the Falbo case the defendant challenged the order of his local board before he had exhausted his administrative remedies. Here these registrants had pursued their administrative remedies to the end. All had been done which could be done. Submission to induction would be satisfaction of the orders of the local boards, not a further step to obtain relief from them.*fn15

If § 11 were not construed to permit the accused to defend on the ground that his local board acted beyond its jurisdiction, a curious result would follow. The remedy of habeas corpus extends to a case where a person "is in custody in violation of the Constitution or of a law . . . of the United States . . ." R. S. § 753, 28 U. S. C. § 453. It has been assumed that habeas corpus is available only

[ 327 U.S. Page 124]

     after a registrant has been inducted into the armed services.*fn16 But if we now hold that a registrant could not defend at his trial on the ground that the local board had no jurisdiction in the premises, it would seem that the way would then be open to him to challenge the jurisdiction of the local board after conviction by habeas corpus.*fn17 The

[ 327 U.S. Page 125]

     court would then be sending men to jail today when it was apparent that they would have to be released tomorrow.

We do not suggest that because Congress has provided one judicial remedy another should be implied. We may assume that where only one judicial remedy is provided, it normally would be deemed exclusive. But the fact that habeas corpus after conviction is available in these cases gives added support to our reading of § 11. It supports a rejection of a construction of the Act that requires the courts to march up the hill when it is apparent from the beginning that they will have to march down again.

We express no opinion on the merits of the defenses which were tendered. Since the petitioners were denied the opportunity to show that their local boards exceeded their jurisdiction, a new trial must be had in each case.

Reversed.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON took no part in the consideration or ...


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