In Foster v. Neilson6 was involved the determination whether Spain or the United States had sovereignty over a given district. The decision as to this, the court held, was a purely political one to be made by the executive, and without judicial power of revision. In his opinion Marshall declares: "If those departments which are entrusted with the foreign intercourse of the nation, which assert and maintain its interests against foreign powers, have unequivocally asserted its rights of dominion over a country of which it is in possession, and which it claims under a treaty; if the legislature has acted on the construction thus asserted, it is not in its own courts that this construction is to be denied. A question like this respecting the boundaries of nations is, as has been truly said, more a political than a legal question, and in its discussion, the courts of every country must respect the pronounced will of the legislature."
5 "It is true," the opinion continues, "the bill, in setting forth the political rights of the State, and of Its people to be protected, among other matters, avers that Georgia owns certain real estate and buildings therein, State Capitol and executive mansion, and other real and personal property; and that putting the acts of Congress into execution, and destroying the State, would deprive it of the possession and enjoyment of its property. But it is apparent that this reference to property and statement concerning it, are only by way of showing one of the grievances resulting from the threatened destruction of the State, and in aggravation of it, not as a specific ground of relief. This matter of property is neither stated as an independent ground, nor is it noticed at all in the prayers for relief. Indeed the case, as made in the bill, would have stopped far short of the relief sought by the State, and its main purpose and design given up, by restraining its remedial effect, simply to the protection of the title and possession of its property. Such relief would have called for a very different bill from the one before us."
6 2 Pet. 253; 7 L. ed. 415.
In Ex parte Cooper7 the court expressed itself bound by the action of the political departments claiming jurisdiction to an extent exceeding fifty-nine miles from the shore of Alaska. It was intimated, however, that should a case involving private rights arise, but bearing upon a point public in its nature which had not been passed upon by the political departments, the court would be constrained itself to decide the point.
The political departments of the United States Government, that is to say, the executive and legislative departments, have the final and conclusive word not only as to the existence of American sovereignty over a given district, but as to which of two or more contending foreign States has de jure jurisdiction. This was declared in Williams v. Suffolk Insurance Co.8 In this case a vessel, insured generally against loss, was ordered by the government of Buenos Avres not to catch seal off the Falkland Islands. The master of the schooner denied the jurisdiction of Buenos Ayres, and was captured and condemned by the authorities of Buenos Ayres. Upon suit being brought for the insurance, these facts were set up by the insurers. The Supreme Court, however, refused to consider the evidence as to sovereignty, but held itself concluded by the action of the political departments of the United States Government, saying: "Can there be any doubt that when the executive branch of the government, which is charged with the foreign relations, shall in its correspondence with a foreign nation assume a fact in regard to the sovereignty of any island or country, it is conclusive on the judicial department? And in this view it is not material to inquire, nor is it the province of the court to determine, whether the executive be right or wrong. It is enough to know that, in the exercise of his constitutional functions, he has decided the question. Having done this under the responsibilities which belong to him, it is obligatory on the people and government of the Union. If this were not the rule cases might often arise in which, on most important questions of foreign jurisdiction, there would be an irreconcilable difference between the executive and judicial departments. By one of these departments, a foreign island or country might be considered as at peace with the United States whilst the other would, consider it in a state of war. No well-regulated government has ever sanctioned a principle so unwise, and so destructive of national character."
7 143 U. S. 472; 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 453; 36 L. ed. 232.
8 13 Pet. 415; 10 L. ed. 226.
Again, in Jones v. United States9 the court say: "Who is the sovereign de jure or de facto of a territory is not a judicial but a political question, the determination of which by the legislative and executive departments of any government conclusively binds the judges as well as all other officers, citizens and subjects, of the government. All courts are bound to take judicial notice of the territorial extent of the jurisdiction exercised by the government whose laws they administer, or of its recognition or denial of the sovereignty of a foreign power, as appearing from the public acts of the legislature and executive, although those acts are not formally put in evidence, nor in accord with the pleadings."