Moyer V. Peabody - Background


The case arose out of a wave of labor disputes, known as the Colorado Labor Wars, in the mining industry in the state of Colorado. In August 1902, the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) organized mill workers in Colorado City, Colorado. The employers planted a spy in the union, and the evidence of union activity the mole gathered led to the dismissal of 42 union members. Union-employer negotiations over the dismissals began almost immediately, and dragged on into 1903. With the negotiations at a standstill, the WFM struck on February 14, 1903. After the number of miners walking the picket lines grew in March and April, the mine owners decided to seek state aid. Governor James Peabody was strongly anti-union, and the employers worked with him to craft a response which would break the strike and the union. Although Colorado City was quiet and no public disorders of any magnitude had occurred, the employers and local authorities claimed extensive rioting had occurred and that local and county law enforcement were unable to handle the mobs. Governor Peabody called out the Colorado militia, investing them around Colorado City. Outraged miners in nearby Cripple Creek and the western city of Telluride also walked off the job, and the militia was deployed in those cities as well. Mass arrests began in September 1903, breaking the strike. One of those arrested was Charles Moyer.

Moyer had traveled to Telluride to protest the mass arrests and deportation of miners. He lent his signature to a WFM poster (see right) denouncing the arrests. Moyer was arrested on March 28, 1904, for desecrating the American flag. He was released on bail, but re-arrested the following day on the orders of the Adjutant General of the state militia on the grounds of "military necessity".

Moyer's predicament was not unusual. The state militia had detained hundreds of striking workers and union leaders for many weeks in bullpens, and had disregarded hundreds of habeas corpus petitions.

Moyer petitioned a Colorado state court for a writ of habeas corpus, which was granted. However, the Colorado State Attorney General and the local district attorney refused to honor the writ. Moyer appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. On June 6, 1904, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in In re Moyer, 35 Colo. 163, that Moyer's constitutional right to due process and habeas corpus had not been violated. The court held that the governor had acted under color of state law, and that the courts had no jurisdiction to review the governor's finding that a state of insurrection existed in Colorado.

Moyer appealed to the U.S. District Court in Missouri, and obtained a writ of habeas corpus on July 5, 1904.

Alarmed by the writ, Governor Peabody revoked the finding of insurrection the same day and ordered Moyer released by 3:45 p.m. (before the federal writ could be served). Moyer was released, but continued to press his case. The U.S. Supreme Court accepted certiorari, and oral argument occurred on January 5 and January 6, 1909.

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