510 F.2d 167
166 U.S.App.D.C. 214
James E. McCALL
C. L. SWAIN, Superintendent, Lorton Reformatory, et al., Appellants.
United States Court of Appeals,
District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued Dec. 12, 1974.
Decided March 20, 1975.
David P. Sutton, Asst. Corp. Counsel for the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., with whom C. Francis Murphy, Corp. Counsel, and Richard W. Barton, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellants.
Laurence Sarezky, with whom Ricardo M. Urbina, Washington, D.C., was on the brief, for appellee.
Opinion for the court filed by Circuit Judge J. SKELLY WRIGHT.
Before MOORE, Senior Circuit Judge, and WRIGHT and ROBB, Circuit Judges.
J. SKELLY WRIGHT, Circuit Judge:
We must decide today whether, under the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or the Superior Court of the District of Columbia has habeas corpus jurisdiction over an individual sentenced for local crimes by the District Court, when the habeas petition challenges the constitutionality of a local prison's administrative decision to transfer the petitioner to maximum security confinement. We affirm Judge Gesell's ruling that habeas corpus jurisdiction over such cases is exclusively vested in the District Court.
* Appellee McCall is confined at the Lorton Correctional Complex, an integral part of the District of Columbia correctional system which, by a special Act of Congress, was constructed outside the District in northwestern Virginia. Convicted of and sentenced for armed robbery and assault with a dangerous weapon by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, appellee was committed to the custody of the Attorney General who, pursuant to 24 D.C.Code § 425 (1973), designated Lorton as the appropriate facility in which the sentence was to be served.
Following appellee's alleged failure to report to his assigned place of duty at Lorton Reformatory's Industrial Workhouse for an early morning prisoner count, he was granted a hearing before the prison Disciplinary Committee, which ordered him transferred to maximum security confinement for at least 45 days as punishment for his 'lack of cooperation.' Having exhausted all available internal prison remedies, appellee, who claimed the hearing failed to comport with minimal due process standards, petitioned the District Court for a writ of habeas corpus and an order transferring him back to the general prison complex.
Ordered to show cause why the requested writ of habeas corpus should not issue, appellants--the Director of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections and the Superintendent of Lorton Reformatory--asserted that except in extreme situations courts should not interfere with internal prison regulations and their enforcement, and that as a proper exercise of prison discipline, the actions taken against appellee were in no way violative of his constitutional rights. On July 16, 1973, at a hearing held by Judge Gesell to consider the merits of the petition, appellants also challenged the District Court's jurisdiction to entertain the petition, since 16 D.C.Code § 1901(c) (1973) specifies that petitions directed to persons other than federal officers and employees must be filed in the Superior Court rather than in the District Court.
Although Judge Gesell did not believe that failure to join the Attorney General, to whose custody appellee had been committed upon sentencing, affected the outcome of the jurisdictional issue, he ordered the petition amended and the Attorney General joined as a party to the action. After considering the arguments on the jurisdictional question, Judge Gesell rendered an oral opinion holding that the District Court did have jurisdiction to entertain appellee's petition:
(T)he Court feels that any defendant committed by this Court to the Attorney General is at all times under the custody and control and responsibility of the Attorney General and that in the event the Defendant is mistreated or denied rights which he has habeas corpus lies to a Federal Court to protect Federal prisoners. It is on that basis that I propose to proceed, the Attorney General having been brought into these proceedings which were initially simply against the state authorities. I do that in part because of a very definite feeling that Federal Courts must have a continuing interest and responsibility for defendants that are committed under its (sic) aegis to penitentiaries or jails. I do it also because this Court's efforts to bring about reforms within the D.C. Correctional System have been extraordinarily ineffective and I have no reason to believe that the Superior Court will have any greater success than did this Court in attempting to improve correctional conditions within the D.C. Correctional Department.
* * * I think that this Court has an inherent power to act with respect to prisoners who have been committed by this Court.
Judge Gesell then sustained appellee's petition on the merits and ordered that he be immediately released from maximum security confinement and returned to the general prison population. This appeal, based solely on the jurisdictional aspects of the order, followed.
When Congress enacted the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970, 84 Stat. 473 et seq., it accorded the Superior Court of the District of Columbia jurisdiction 'relating to writs of habeas corpus directed to persons other than Federal officers and employees.' 11 D.C.Code § 921(a)(3)(A)(iii) (1973). More specifically, 16 D.C.Code § 1901 (1973) now provides that
(a) A person committed, detained, confined, or restrained from his lawful liberty within the District, under any color or pretense whatever, or a person in his behalf, may apply by petition to the appropriate court, or a judge thereof, for a writ of habeas corpus, to the end that the cause of the commitment, detainer, confinement, or restraint may be inquired into. * * *
(b) Petitions for writs directed to Federal officers and employees shall be filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
(c) Petitions for writs directed to any other person shall be filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Although the issue addressed by the trial court, and the main issue presented to us on this appeal, is whether the habeas corpus petition was directed against 'Federal officers and employees' within the meaning of 16 D.C.Code § 1901(b), we feel constrained to first address the issue whether either the District Court or the Superior Court has jurisdiction over this petition, since Section 1901(a) appears to premise jurisdiction on petitioner's being 'committed, detained, confined, or restrained * * * within the District,' and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has construed that section literally to require petitioner's confinement within the District's territorial boundaries. See I.B. v. District of Columbia Dept. of Human Resources, Social Services Admin., D.C.Ct.App., 287 A.2d 827, 828--829 (1972). Noting the language of Section 1901 and citing Ahrens v. Clark, 335 U.S. 188, 68 S.Ct. 1443, 92 L.Ed. 1898 (1948), the I.B. court reached its conclusion on the premise that 'the Supreme Court has required that the jurisdictional prerequisites imposed on habeas corpus be construed literally.' 287 A.2d at 828. Although the Court Reform Act rendered the District of Columbia Court of Appeals the 'highest court of the District of Columbia,' 11 D.C.Code § 102 (1973), and although we should accord the 'greatest deference (to its) decisions,' see M.A.S., Inc. v. Van Curler Broadcasting Corp., D.D.C., 357 F.Supp. 686, 690 (1973), we do not believe such deference is appropriate in construing a statute relating to our own jurisdiction, see, e.g., Holly v. United States, 150 U.S.App.D.C. 287, 290, 464 F.2d 796, 799 (1972) (deference not accorded to DCCA where this court had jurisdiction to resolve criminal appeals on merits and statutory construction involved constitutional considerations), particularly when subsequent developments have indicated that the I.B. court's reliance on Ahrens is no longer valid. See also Fitzgerald v. Sigler, D.D.C., 372 F.Supp. 889, 895--896 (1974), appeal pending, sub nom. Byrd v. Sigler, D.C.Cir. No. 74--1517.
16 D.C.Code § 1901 was first enacted in 1901 as 16 D.C.Code § 801. See Act of March 3, 1901, ch. 854, § 1143, 31 Stat. 1372. It originally provided:
Any person committed, detained, confined, or restrained from his lawful liberty within the District * * * may apply by petition to the supreme court of the District, or any justice thereof, for a writ of habeas corpus, to the end that the cause of such commitment, detainer, confinement, or restraint may be inquired into * * *.
Despite the 'within the District' language, early decisions by this court recognized the right of a habeas corpus petitioner to challenge matters relating to the day-to-day operation of a correctional institution located outside the District but operated under the supervisory control of the District's Department of Corrections. See, e.g., Burns v. Welch, 81 U.S.App.D.C. 384, 385, 159 F.2d 29, 30 (1947) (inmate at Lorton Reformatory) (dictim); Sanders v. Bennett, 80 U.S.App.D.C. 32, 33, 148 F.2d 19, 20 (1945) ('Since the rule is a practical one based on common sense administration of justice we have held that the courts in the District of Columbia may issue writs of habeas corpus directed to those in direct charge of penal institutions of the District which happen to be located just outside its borders. This is because it is the plain duty of the District to adjudicate matters arising out of the conduct of its own institutions.') (emphasis added; footnote omitted); cf. Sanders v. Allen, 69 App.D.C. 307, 308--309, 100 F.2d 717, 718--719 (1938) (challenge by inmate of District Workhouse at Occoquan, Virginia to procedural fairness of trial held in District). See also, e.g., Ex parte Flick, D.D.C., 76 F.Supp. 979, 981 (1948) (dictum), affirmed, sub nom. Flick v. Johnson, 85 U.S.App.D.C. 70, 174 F.2d 983, cert. denied, 338 U.S. 879, 70 S.Ct. 158, 94 L.Ed. 539 (1949) (although District Court may entertain petitions from prisoners confined at Occoquan Workhouse or Lorton Reformatory because 'these two institutions are part of the local District of Columbia penal system and are owned by the District of Columbia,' general rule requiring petitioner's presence within territorial jurisdiction of court precludes entertainment of petition from individual incarcerated in Nuremburg, Germany). These cases were, however, effectively overruled by Ahrens v. Clark, supra, and McAffee v. Clemmer, 84 U.S.App.D.C. 57, 57--58, 171 F.2d 131, 131--132 (1948) ('those holdings (finding jurisdiction in the District Court over habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates of Lorton Reformatory and Occoquan Workhouse) are overruled by the Ahrens case').
In Ahrens the Supreme Court held that the habeas corpus petitioner's presence within a federal District Court's territorial jurisdiction is a prerequisite to the court's jurisdiction over the petition. Petitioners in that case were 120 Germans being held at Ellis Island, New York for deportation to Germany. They filed their petitions, however, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. It is significant that in holding the District Court to be without jurisdiction over petitions filed by individuals confined or restrained outside the territorial jurisdiction of the court, the Supreme Court relied exclusively on the language of the predecessor to 28 U.S.C. § 2441 (1970), the general habeas corpus jurisdictional statute for federal courts, which provided that '(t)he several justices of the Supreme Court and the several judges of the circuit courts of appeal and of the district courts, within their respective jurisdictions, shall have power to grant writs of habeas corpus for the purpose of an inquiry into the cause of restraint of liberty.' Indeed, the opinion did not even mention the 'within the District' language of 16 D.C.Code § 1901, which arguably would have been an easier statute under which to find a territorial limitation on the District Court's jurisdiction.
Ahrens has since been substantially modified by the Supreme Court's decision in Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky, 410 U.S. 484, 93 S.Ct. 1123, 35 L.Ed.2d 443 (1973). Again construing the 'within their respective jurisdictions' language of 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a) (1970), the Braden Court held that '(s)o long as the custodian can be reached by service of process, the court can issue a writ 'within its jurisdiction' requiring that the prisoner be brought before the court for a hearing on his claim * * * even if the prisoner himself is confined outside the court's territorial jurisdiction.' 410 U.S. at 495, 93 S.Ct. at 1130. '(W)e can no longer view (Ahrens) as establishing an inflexible jurisdictional rule.' Id. at 499--500, 93 S.Ct. at 1132. Venue considerations rather than an arbitrary jurisdictional obstacle would thereafter be employed to serve the policies which underlay the Ahrens decision.
The Braden rule, which involves a balancing of interests '(i)n terms of traditional venue considerations' and which looks to the 'most desirable forum for the adjudication of the (habeas) claim,' see 410 U.S. at 493, 93 S.Ct. at 1129, has been adopted by this court. See, e.g., Eisel v. Secretary of the Army, 155 U.S.App.D.C. 366, 477 F.2d 1251 (1973) (determination of proper habeas forum for proceedings brought by commissioned inactive armed forces reservists seeking to obtain discharge as conscientious objectors). See also Reese v. United States Board of Parole, 162 U.S.App.D.C. 156, 158, 498 F.2d 698, 700 (1974) (habeas jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 lies within Arizona, where appellant was incarcerated, and District of Columbia, the judicial district where the custodian of the confinement was present; case remanded to District Court with instructions to transfer petition to United States District Court for the District of Arizona, a more convenient forum). Yet none of the post-Braden cases have considered the language of 16 D.C.Code § 1901 to be more restrictive than the language of 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Indeed, 16 D.C.Code § 1909 (1973) explicitly provides that '(t)his chapter (on habeas corpus within the District) does not affect any provision of chapter 153 of Title 28, United States Code (the federal habeas corpus chapter which includes 28 U.S.C. § 2241).' The revision notes to Section 1909 clarify the congressional purpose in enacting it in 1964:
Section is new, and is inserted for the purpose of construction.
Chapter 153 of Title 28, United States Code, also relates to habeas corpus and applies to Federal courts generally, including the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Upon the reenactment of the provisions carried into this chapter, they will constitute a later enactment than Title 28, United States Code, which was enacted in 1948. Considering the local character of the provisions carried into this chapter, there should not arise, as a general rule, even without this section, any question of conflict. However, this section is inserted as a precautionary measure.
It is therefore evident that Section 1901 does not restrict the jurisdiction of the District Court here in any way in which a federal District Court located elsewhere is not restricted. At most, Section 1901 is an additional jurisdictional statute relating to particular local problems and its 'within the District' language should be construed in pari materia with the 'within their respective jurisdictions' language of 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Thus, since 28 U.S.C. § 2241 has been interpreted by Braden and Eisel to allow federal District Courts with jurisdiction over the custodian to entertain habeas petitions from prisoners who are not physically confined within the territorial jurisdiction of the court, we hold that the phrase 'within the District' does not prohibit a court--whether the District Court or the Superior Court--located in the District from entertaining habeas corpus petitions from individuals confined within the District's correctional facilities located outside the District limits. In effect the Braden decision has resurrected the Sanders v. Bennett line of cases, and in light of the close nexus between the District and the correctional facilities it operates, traditional venue considerations indicate that this is the most appropriate jurisdiction in which to litigate those claims.
Having determined that a court within the District may entertain appellee's habeas petition, we must address the issue decided by District Judge Gesell: does the Superior Court or the District Court have exclusive jurisdiction over a habeas petition filed within the District by a person serving a District Court sentence for local crimes, when the petition challenges the legality of the local prison's administrative decision to transfer the petitioner to maximum security confinement. Since there is no pertinent legislative history disclosing congressional intent as to what individuals constitute 'Federal officers and employees' within the meaning of Section 1901, we must look to the interpretation of that term in other contexts and to the policies underlying the Court Reform Act in order to determine whether this petition was properly entertained by the District Court.
As early as 1815, in an action of debt brought against a federal marshal for the escape of a federal prisoner from the state jailer to whose custody he had been committed, the Supreme Court observed in dictum that
(f)or certain purposes, and to certain intents, the state jail lawfully used by the United States, may be deemed to be the jail of the United States, and that keeper to be the keeper of the United States.
Randolph v. Donaldson, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 76, 86, 3 L.Ed. 662 (1815). See also, e.g., Fanning v. United States, 4 Cir., 72 F.2d 929, 931 (1934) ('state jail officers, in executing writs of a federal court, are officers of that court and subject to punishment for contempt for disobedience of warrants committing prisoners to their custody'); Wilson v. United States, 8 Cir., 26 F.2d 215, 216 (1928) (a state 'jailer and his assistants, in holding a federal prisoner (under a statute admitting federal prisoners to the state's jails for detention), become pro hac vice officers of the United States court'; federal courts have statutory power to punish as a contempt 'the misbehavior of any of the officers of said courts in their official transactions'); Ex parte Shores, N.D.Iowa, 195 F. 627, 630 (1912) (punishment of state jailer for contempt for disobedience of federal court's order committing federal prisoner to his custody; 'the (state jails), therefore, may be deemed jails of the United States * * * and the keepers thereof, though not strictly officers of the United States, are keepers for the United States of the prisoners committed to said jails by the courts of the United States'); In re Birdsong, S.D.Ga., 39 F. 599, 600 (1889); United States v. Martin, D.Ore., 17 F. 150, 153--155 (1883).
In Reid v. Covert, 351 U.S. 487, 76 S.Ct. 880, 100 L.Ed. 1352 (1956), reversed on other grounds after rehearing, 354 U.S. 1, 77 S.Ct. 1222, 1 L.Ed.2d 1148 (1957), the Supreme Court addressed the question whether the superintendent of the District of Columbia jail was an 'officer or employee' of the United States within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1252 (1970) with respect to the dependent wife of a United States Air Force sergeant who was transferred to that jail while awaiting retrial by court-martial at an air base in Washington, D.C. In holding the superintendent to be such an officer, the Court declared:
It has long been settled that an officer, while holding prisoners for the United States, is the 'keeper of the United States,' Randolph v. Donaldson, 9 Cranch 76, 86, 3 L.Ed. 662, and, as such, is an officer of the United States. Since (the Superintendent) was required to 'receive and keep' prisoners of the United States, he is, to that extent, an officer of the United States. It is not necessary to say, and we do not say, that the District of Columbia in these circumstances is an 'agency' of the United States. For, whether the Government should maintain its own jail in the District of Columbia, or utilize the local facilities, is simply a matter of administrative convenience * * *. For all practical purposes, the District of Columbia jail is, in this case, the 'jail of the United States,' Randolph v. Donaldson, supra, and the superintendent is its keeper. As the custodian of Mrs. Covert (the habeas corpus petitioner), a federal prisoner, appellant is an officer or employee of the United States for purposes of § 1252.
351 U.S. at 489--490, 76 S.Ct. at 882 (emphasis added.)
This court, in the context of holding that the Attorney General's congressional authorization to commit federal prisoners to the District of Columbia jail did not preclude a prisoner from availing himself of the Federal Tort Claims Act for an injury sustained in that jail, observed:
Since the Congress has clearly committed the custody and safekeeping of federal prisoners upon conviction to the Attorney General, then it must be true that in this instance the D.C. jailer was serving as the Attorney General's jailer; and it must also be true, or at least it does not appear to the contrary in the record before us, that, as to this federal prisoner, the Attorney General had some degree of power, commensurate with his continuing responsibility, to supervise the D.C. jailer in his handling of this particular prisoner. We note in this regard that, for purposes of the FTCA, Congress has defined 'Employee of the (federal) government' as including 'persons acting on behalf of a federal agency in an official capacity, temporarily or permanently in the service of the United States, whether with or without compensation.' * * *
Close v. United States, 130 U.S.App.D.C. 125, 126, 397 F.2d 686, 687 (1968) (per curiam) (emphasis added). See also Witt v. United States, 2 Cir., 462 F.2d 1261, 1264 (1972); Fitzgerald v. Sigler, D.D.C., 372 F.Supp. 889, 896 (1974) (immediate custodian of federal prisoner detained at Lorton is 'Federal officer' within meaning of 16 D.C.Code § 1901 with respect to habeas petition challenging detainer lodged against petitioner by United States Board of Parole based upon unexecuted parole violator warrant).
Similarly in our case, appellee was committed by the District Court to the custody of the Attorney General, who in turn ordered appellee incarcerated, pursuant to the discretionary power vested in him by Congress, at the Lorton Reformatory. As delegates or agents of the Attorney General, appellants are performing the functions with which he is legally charged; as such, particularly in light of the uniformity of those opinions holding the custodian of a federal prisoner to be a federal officer with respect to that prisoner, they must be deemed to be 'Federal officers or employees' within the meaning of 16 D.C.Code § 1901. Congress must have been aware of those numerous precedents establishing the principle that state officials assuming responsibility for executing a warrant of commitment issued by a federal court are officers of that court and therefore 'federal' officers for purposes of a variety of statutes; since Congress failed to expressly alter these precedents, we consider them viable in this analogous context.
Appellants nevertheless argue that 'the basic aim of the Court Reform Act * * * was to provide for the resolution of distinctively local problems by a newly created local judiciary,' and that, since appellee 'is not claiming procedural or constitutional irregularities either in connection with a federally imposed sentence or federal judicial proceedings * * * (but) is claiming that his constitutional rights were violated in connection with the internal operation of a prison by District officials,' habeas should lie in the Superior Court. In effect, appellants' claim is that these policies inherent in the Act implicitly dictate that they not be deemed 'Federal officers' with respect to appellee. Admittedly, the 'overriding intent of Congress (in enacting the Court Reform Act was) to create a largely independent local court system,' Bland v. Rodgers, D.D.C., 332 F.Supp. 989, 991 (1971), and sources cited therein. See also, e.g., Palmore v. United States, 411 U.S. 389, 406--409, 93 S.Ct. 1670, 36 L.Ed.2d 342 (1973). And within that system, federal courts were to exhibit 'the customary deference accorded to the local administration of local matters.' See, e.g., Williams, District of Columbia Court Reorganization, 1970, 59 Geo.L.J. 477, 499 (1971). However, we believe that the interpretation of 16 D.C.Code § 1901 which places habeas corpus jurisdiction in the District Court with respect to all petitions filed by those individuals convicted by that court is consistent with these legislative goals.
In response to appellants' contention that they should not be considered 'Federal officers and employees' with respect to petitioner because they are engaged in the daily operation of a correctional facility committed to the control of local authorities, it should be emphasized that the mere fact that an individual is incarcerated in a prison committed to operation by local officials, and is challenging their actions in the daily administration of that prison, does not preclude the exercise of federal habeas jurisdiction by other federal District Courts. Under 18 U.S.C. § 4082(a) (1970), a 'person convicted of an offense against the United States shall be committed * * * to the custody of the Attorney General of the United States, who shall designate the place of confinement where the sentence shall be served.' Such confinement may be in an institution operated by state officials, since 18 U.S.C. § 4082(b) (1970) specifies that the 'Attorney General may designate as a place of confinement any available, suitable, and appropriate institution or facility, whether maintained by Congress contemplated that such confinement might occur relatively frequently, for it specified in 18 U.S.C. § 4002 (1970) that '(f)or the purpose of providing suitable quarters for the safekeeping, care, and subsistence of all persons held under authority of any enactment of Congress, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons may contract, for a period not exceeding three years, with the Federal Government or otherwise, * * * and may at any time transfer a person from one place of confinement to another.' (Emphasis added.) Indeed, the proper authorities of any State, Territory, or political subdivision thereof, for the imprisonment, subsistence, care and proper employment of such persons.'
In any jurisdiction other than the District of Columbia, it would be beyond contention that an individual convicted and sentenced in a federal court, but ordered committed to such a state-operated facility by the Attorney General, could bring a habeas petition challenging certain actions by prison officials in the relevant federal District Court without first exhausting available state remedies. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (1970), federal District Courts are empowered to issue writs of habeas corpus when, inter alia, a prisoner 'is in custody under or by color of the authority of the United States', id. § 2241(c)(1), or 'is in custody * * * in pursuance of * * * an order, process, judgment or decree of a court or judge of the United States,' id. § 2241(c)(2). And the exhaustion of state remedies requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (1970) would not apply to such a prisoner, since that provision only applies to 'a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court.' It should thus be clear that a prisoner, convicted by a federal court in another jurisdiction and ordered incarcerated in a state prison by the Attorney General, would have immediate access to a federal forum even for habeas petitions which properly concern the day-to-day administration of the institution by the local officials. To deny such access to an individual convicted of a federal crime in a federal court in this jurisdiction, but incarcerated in a locally administered facility by designation of the Attorney General, merely because the basis of the petition was a prison disciplinary matter, would likely constitute a denial of equal protection.
Thus, in light of 16 D.C.Code § 1909, which specifies that the District habeas provisions are not to be construed to restrict the general federal habeas provisions, and considering the principle that Congress is presumed to have enacted constitutionally permissible legislation, we would not construe Section 1901 to prevent an individual convicted of federal crimes in the District Court from petitioning that court to exercise a continuing supervisory role over his treatment during the period of his incarceration. Cf. United States v. Thompson, 147 U.S.App.D.C. 1, 4--12, 452 F.2d 1333, 1336--1344 (1971) (construction of postconviction bail provisions of Court Reform Act). If that incarceration is in an institution under local control, 'the D.C. jailer (is) serving as the Attorney General's jailer' and is amenable to suit in District Court as a 'Federal officer or employee' within the comprehension of Section 1901. Thus the fact that the writ challenges the daily disciplinary actions of prison officials is not a factor compelling the statutory construction urged by appellants.
Of course the mere fact that the District Court may, in certain instances, entertain habeas petitions that affect the day-to-day administration of local correctional facilities does not necessarily mean that it may do so with respect to an individual convicted of local crimes by the District Court. Such an individual does not stand in exactly the same position as an individual convicted in District Court of a federal crime either before or after the Court Reform Act was passed, so the above equal protection argument would be inapposite. Due to the unique status of the District of Columbia, the District Court before the Court Reform Act in effect functioned as both a local and federal court and, as already noted, the intent of the Act was to create a local judicial system that would place prosecution of crime in the District on the same footing as in other states. See, e.g., Palmore v. United States, supra, 411 U.S. at 392--393 n. 2, 407--409, 93 S.Ct. 1670. Appellants' contention could thus be interpreted as an assertion that the Superior Court undertook all functions that a state court would perform, and that all actions which the District Court executed before the Court Reform Act but which would be taken by the Superior Court after that Act should be considered to have been done by the Superior Court in the first instance. Appellee, who stands convicted of local crimes, would under this analysis be treated as an individual convicted in a state court who must first exhaust state remedies before filing a habeas petition in federal court.
We find this argument to be no more persuasive than the 'local prison administration' argument in determining whether appellants were acting as 'Federal officers and employees' with respect to appellee. Although local courts existed prior to the Court Reform Act, Congress had deliberately chosen to invest the federal courts with the responsibility of trying local crimes. This congressional distribution of judicial power was a legitimate exercise of Congress' Article III power to establish inferior courts and its plenary Article I powers with respect to governing the District, cf., e.g., Palmore v. United States, supra, 411 U.S. at 397--403, 405--407, 93 S.Ct. 1670, 36 L.Ed.2d 342, and reflected the fact that 'the District is truly sui generis in our governmental structure.' Cf. District of Columbia v. Carter, 409 U.S. 418, 432, 93 S.Ct. 602, 610, 34 L.Ed.2d 613 (1973). Appellant was tried, convicted, sentenced, and resentenced by the District Court in furtherance of this congressionally mandated responsibility. That federal court issued the order under which the Attorney General assumed custody of and responsibility for appellee, a responsibility which he subsequently delegated to appellants. In accepting custody of appellee, the Attorney General and appellants were acting as officers of the District Court, which could punish them for contempt for failure to properly fulfill their duties as custodians, and it would be strange indeed if that court could not effectuate its review of their actions via a writ of habeas corpus. Thus, had the Court Reform Act never been enacted, it would be clear that appellee could petition the District Court for the writ which he in fact sought, and that court would have been remiss in its judicial responsibilities if it did not ensure that the conditions of appellee's incarceration met constitutionally acceptable standards. It is simply anomalous to suggest that a court, whose duty it is to ensure that the full vitality of the Great Writ is preserved inviolate, could be precluded from exercising continuing oversight of the manner in which individuals it commits to custody are treated, particularly when those executing the court's commitment orders are considered officers of the court with respect to those prisoners. As Judge Gesell asserted, a court has an 'inherent power' to act with respect to prisoners 'committed under its aegis.'
At the time of his commitment appellee was thus unquestionably a federal prisoner who could look to the District Court for assurance that during his period of incarceration he would be subjected to no unconstitutional or illegal restraints on his liberty. Congress, which in enacting the Court Reform Act should have been aware of the plethora of cases holding that the keeper of a prisoner convicted and sentenced by a federal court is a federal officer with respect to that prisoner, nevertheless utilized the phrase 'Federal officers and employees' to delimit the scope of District Court jurisdiction over District of Columbia habeas actions, and made no attempt to give that phrase a different content than that already developed through judicial precedent. Since there is no indication that Congress intended that Section 1901 would retroactively alter the 'federal prisoner' status of individuals such as appellee, we believe Congress intended that the District Court continue in its supervisory role with respect to individuals that it sentenced, whether for local or federal crimes, and that the keepers of those individuals continue to be considered 'Federal officers and employees' for habeas jurisdictional purposes.