United States v. Johnson (1899)

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United States v. Johnson
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Submitted November 10, 1898
Decided February 27, 1899
Full case nameUnited States v. Johnson
Citations 173 U.S. 363 ( more )
19 S. Ct. 427; 43 L. Ed. 731; 1899 U.S. LEXIS 1441
Court membership
Chief Justice
Melville Fuller
Associate Justices
John M. Harlan  · Horace Gray
David J. Brewer  · Henry B. Brown
George Shiras Jr.  · Edward D. White
Rufus W. Peckham  · Joseph McKenna
Case opinions
Majority Harlan
Dissent Shiras, Peckham

United States v. Johnson, 173 U.S. 363 (1899), was a United States Supreme Court case.

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. Established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, it has original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. It also has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal court and state court cases that involve a point of federal constitutional or statutory law. The Court has the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution or an executive act for being unlawful. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions. Each year it agrees to hear about one hundred to one hundred fifty of the more than seven thousand cases that it is asked to review.



Johnson, while the U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was claiming extra compensation as for special services in a suit to condemn lands for a mortar battery upon direction of the Attorney General at the request of the Secretary of War. He had presented two bills totaling $6,500, which the Attorney General approved and allowed, by which the Accounting Officers of the Government refused to pay.

Salary remuneration paid by an employer to an employee

A salary is a form of payment from an employer to an employee, which may be specified in an employment contract. It is contrasted with piece wages, where each job, hour or other unit is paid separately, rather than on a periodic basis. From the point of view of running a business, salary can also be viewed as the cost of acquiring and retaining human resources for running operations, and is then termed personnel expense or salary expense. In accounting, salaries are recorded in payroll accounts.

Mortar (weapon) Artillery weapon that launches explosive projectiles at high angles

A mortar is usually a simple, lightweight, man portable, muzzle-loaded weapon, consisting of a smooth-bore metal tube fixed to a base plate with a lightweight bipod mount and a sight. They launch explosive shells in high-arcing ballistic trajectories. Mortars are typically used as indirect fire weapons for close fire support with a variety of ammunition.

Opinion of the Court

In this refusal they were upheld by the Supreme Court. While the Act of March 2, 1889, 40 U.S.C.A. § 256 (which requires that all legal services connected with the procurement of title should be rendered by U.S. District Attorneys) was in force at the time the direction by the Attorney General was given to Johnson in 1891, the Supreme Court, nevertheless, made no reference to that Statute in the Opinion, but based its conclusions upon the Statute of August 1, 1888, 40 U.S.C.A. § 257, which required the Attorney General upon request of the appropriate officer of the Department "to cause proceedings to be commenced for condemnation", and upon the general statute prescribing it to be the duty of the United States District Attorney to prosecute all civil actions in which the U.S. is concerned. 28 U.S.C.A. § 485.

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The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

The Court stated the question as follows:

The controlling question, therefore, in the present case is whether Johnson was Under a duty imposed upon him as district attorney to perform the services for which he here claims special compensation. If such was his duty as defined by law, then he is forbidden by statute from receiving any special compensation on account of such services; this for the reason that no appropriation for such compensation has been made by any statute explicitly stating that it was for such additional pay, extra allowance or compensation. Rev.St. §§ 1764, 1765 [5 U.S.C.A. §§ 69, 70]. On the other hand, if his duties as district attorney did not embrace such services as he rendered, and for which he here claims special compensation, then he is entitled to be paid therefor without reference to the regular salary, pay, or emoluments attached to his office.

Basing its opinion upon which it referred to as the "clear and explicit" language of the Statute (page 378 of 173 U.S., page 432 of 19 S.Ct., 43 L.Ed. 731) and upon its previous holdings in Gibson v. Peters, 150 U.S. 342, 14 S.Ct. 134, 37 L.Ed. 1104, and upon the Opinions of the Attorney General contained in 7 Op.Atty.Gen. 84; [1] 9 Op.Atty.Gen. 146, [2] and 19 Op.Atty.Gen. 121, [3] and the views of the "second comptroller of the treasury" in Cousar's Digest 12, the Court came to the conclusion that Johnson "was under a duty, as district attorney, to represent the United States in the condemnation proceedings."

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  1. "A contrary construction would lay the foundation for extra compensation to district attorneys in almost every case in which they appear in civil actions" [173 U.S. 363, 19 S.Ct. 433, 43 L.Ed. 731].
  2. United States v. Johnson, 173 U.S. page 380, 19 S.Ct. 433, 43 L.Ed. 731: "When a duty is enjoined upon him by the law of his office, and not merely by the request of a department, he is bound to perform it, and take as compensation what the law gives him. That is his contract; and if it be a bad one for him he has no remedy but resignation. The subject is not open to a new bargain between him and any other officer of the government. All criminal prosecutions and all civil suits in which the United States are a party of record fall within this principle."
  3. See also 2 Op.Atty.Gen. 318, 319; 8 Op.Atty.Gen. 399; 5 Op.Atty.Gen. 261, 263.

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