• Last updated on November 11, 2022

In its first sustained definition of “due process of law,” the Supreme Court ruled that the Treasury Department did not violate the Fifth Amendment when it used administrative warrants to recovery embezzled funds.

The accounts of a customs collector, Samuel Swartwout, were short more than a million dollars. The Treasury Department used a congressional law of 1820 to place a lien on his property without prior judicial approval. Swartwout claimed that seizing his property without a judicial proceeding violated the due process requirements of the Fifth Amendment.Search and seizureDue process, procedural;Murray’s Lessee v. Hoboken Land and Improvement Co.[Murray’s Lessee v. Hoboken Land and Improvement Co.]

Justice Benjamin R. Curtis wrote a majority opinion in Murray's Lessee that put Congress on notice that it could not merely will "due process."

(Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

Speaking for a unanimous Supreme Court, Justice Benjamin R. CurtisCurtis, Benjamin R.;Murray’s Lessee v. Hoboken Land and Improvement Co.[Murray’s Lessee v. Hoboken Land and Improvement Co.] upheld the constitutionality of both the action and the 1820 law. To determine the meaning of “due process,” the Court must examine the Constitution itself, then look to the “settled usages and modes of proceedings existing in the common and statute law of England,” as modified under U.S. conditions. According to this tradition, judicial proceedings were not required in order for the government to recover its funds. However, Curtis put the government on notice that the due process clause “cannot be so construed as to leave Congress free to make any process ’due process of law’ by its mere will.” The interpretation of due process in Murray’s Lessee greatly influenced U.S. law, especially during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Common law

Due process, procedural

Fifth Amendment

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