Jackson v. Kuhn

Like the Duncan case in our previous post, the case of Jackson v. Kuhn presented a direct challenge to the legality of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s fateful decision to send the “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock. But unlike the Duncan or Thomason cases, which were State court cases, Jackson v. Kuhn was commenced in federal court.

The plaintiff in this case was Mrs. Margaret Jackson, who was a vocal member of the Mothers’ League of Central High School. The attorney for Mrs. Jackson’s was Kenneth Coffelt. (Mr Coffelt would run for Governor of Arkansas in 1962, but he garnered only 2% of the popular vote in the primary.) Mr. Coffelt brought this case in the Federal District Court for Eastern Arkansas on 2 October 1957, naming as defendants Colonel William Kuhn, the Commanding Officer of the 101st Airborne Division in Little Rock, and Major General Edwin A. Walker, Commanding Officer of the Arkansas Military District of the U.S. Army.

In her federal complaint dated 2 October 1958, Mrs. Jackson petitions the court for a declaratory judgment, one declaring unconstitutional Sections 332, 333, and 334 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code, the statutes that President Eisenhower invoked when he authorized the use of military force in Little Rock. When the district court dismissed the case, she appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The Circuit Court, however, affirmed the district court’s dismissal, holding that it lacked jurisdiction to decide the case. (At that time, a federal question case–i.e. a case brought under 28 U.S.C. Section 1331–had to meet an amount-in-controversy requirement of $3,000.00.) As an aside, this case was decided on the very same day as Thomason v. Cooper, and the opinions in both cases were written by the same federal judge, John B. Sanborn, Jr.

But what if the court had decided to decide this case on the merits? Could a case be made that President Eisenhower had exceeded his constitutional authority to use military force? This is not an idle question, as the tweet below shows, and we will consider it in our next post.

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