Mississippi v. Johnson

Mississippi v. Johnson (1867) was a landmark Reconstruction-era case. In 1867 the State of Mississippi sued Pres. Andrew Johnson, seeking an injunction to prevent him from enforcing the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which had established military rule in the southern states. Lawyers for Mississippi argued that the act was unconstitutional because its enforcement would convert the US government “into a military despotism, in which every man may be deprived of his goods, lands, liberty, and life by the breath of a military commander” appointed by the president.

The US Supreme Court unanimously held that it had no jurisdiction to issue an injunction to prevent the president of the United States from performing his official duties. Writing for the court, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase distinguished between mere ministerial acts, which could be enjoined under the precedent of Marbury v. Madison, and large discretionary executive acts such as enforcing an act of Congress. Relying on the principles of separation of powers, the court held that an injunction could not be issued against an executive acting in his official capacity.

The argument that such an injunction could be obtained against President Johnson as a citizen of Tennessee was also rejected. According to the Court, “A bill praying an injunction against the execution of an act of Congress by the incumbent of the presidential office cannot be received, whether it describes him as President or a citizen of a State.”

Further Reading

  • David P. Currie, University of Chicago Law Review (Winter 1984)
  • Alfred H. Kelly and Winfred A. Harbison, The American Constitution: Its Origins and Development (1976)
  • Mississippi v. Johnson, 71 US 475 (1867)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Mississippi v. Johnson
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 13, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 14, 2018