Interpreting the US Constitution US Supreme Court before 1830
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) • Argued: February 22, 1819 • Decided: March 6, 1819 Facts of the Case In 1816, Congress chartered The Second Bank of the United States. In 1818, the state of Maryland passed legislation to impose taxes on the bank. James W. McCulloch, the cashier of the Baltimore branch of the bank, refused to pay the tax. Constitutional Question Does Congress have the authority to establish the bank? Did the Maryland law unconstitutionally interfere with congressional powers?
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) Article I, Section 8 • To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
Article IV • This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) Opinion of the Court; 7-0 • The Supreme Court ruled that the Necessary and Proper Clause gave Congress the power to establish a national bank. Chief Justice John Marshall, in his opinion for the Court, supported a loose construction of the Constitution. He wrote that the Constitution, unlike a legal code, contained the broad outlines of government power, not every small detail. • “The power to tax involves the power to destroy.” • “We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.” – Chief justice J. Marshall
Question: – How do the above quotes relate to Marshall’s view of judicial review and the role of the Court in the US government?
Gibbons v. Ogden • Argued: February 4, 1824 • Decided: March 2, 1824 Facts of the Case • A New York state law gave Gibbons the exclusive right to operate steamboats on waters within state jurisdiction. This law, and others like it across the Eastern US at the time, led to friction as some states would require foreign (out-of-state) boats to pay substantial fees for access to state water ways. In this case a rival steamboat owner (Ogden) who did business between New York and New Jersey challenged the state law which forced him to obtain an operating permit from New York to navigate on that state's waters. Constitutional Question • Does the Commerce Clause deny New York state the right to govern interstate waterways with New Jersey? Are waterways “commerce” according to the Constitution?
Gibbons v. Ogden Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 Congress shall have the power…To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; Article IV • This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.
Gibbons v. Ogden Opinion of the Court; 7-0 • The Court found that New York's licensing requirement for out-of-state operators was inconsistent with a congressional act regulating the coasting trade. • The New York law was invalid by virtue of the Supremacy Clause. In his opinion, Chief Justice Marshall developed a clear definition of the word commerce. Commerce for the Chief Justice included navigation on interstate waterways. He also gave meaning to the phrase "among the several states" in the Commerce Clause. • Marshall's was one of the earliest and most influential opinions concerning this clause. He concluded that regulation of navigation by steamboat operators and others for purposes of conducting interstate commerce was a power reserved to and exercised by the Congress. Question: • How does the above ruling affect commerce in the US today?
Chisholm v Georgia • Argued: Tuesday, February 5, 1793 • Decided: Monday, February 18, 1793 Facts of the Case • In 1792, South Carolina’s Alexander Chisholm, the executor of the estate of Robert Farquhar, brought suit against the state of Georgia in the United States Supreme Court. Chisholm sought payments due for goods that Farquhar had supplied Georgia during the American Revolutionary War. • Georgia refused to appear in court, claiming that as a sovereign agent, a state dose not have to appear in Federal Court to hear a suit against it to which it did not consent. Constitutional Question • Is a state subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Federal government? Can Georgia be forced to pay debts to a citizen of another state (Chisholm) by the US government?
Chisholm v Georgia Article III, Section 2 • The judicial power shall extend to all cases,…to controversies between two or more states; between a state and citizens of another state;… Article IV • This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.
Chisholm v Georgia Opinion of the Court; 4-1 • In a 4-to-1 decision, the Court held that "the people of the United States" intended to govern the states through the legislative powers of the national government. • The Court held that supreme or sovereign power was retained by citizens themselves, not by the "artificial person" or individual states (Georgia). • The Constitution also clearly expresses that controversies between individual states and citizens of other states is under the jurisdiction of federal courts. State conduct was subject to judicial review. Question • How does this case relate to the 11th Amendment to the Constitution: Amendment XI “The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state.”
Dartmouth College v Woodward • Argued: Tuesday, March 10, 1818 • Decided: Tuesday, February 2, 1819 Facts of the Case • New Hampshire’s newly elected Jeffersonian Republican governor sought to convert the private college into a public university and replace its mainly Federalist trustees with publicly elected/Republican board. The state legislature then revoked the school’s charter dating from 1769 and turned the college into publicly controlled “university”. Constitutional Question • Is the royal charter a contract, and if so, can a state legislature violate a private contract?
Dartmouth College v Woodward Article I, Section 10 - Contract Clause • No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility.
Dartmouth College v Woodward Opinion of the Court; 5-1 Justice Marshall authored opinion for the court • The Court ruled that the college’s charter was a contract and must be honored. The Contract Clause prevents the states from impairing the original agreement between the college and the state (charter originating from a royal grant and transferred to the colonial government). • Justice Marshall also ruled that private entities (the privately run college) are protected by the Commerce Clause. Question • Did the framers intend to include private property in the Contract Clause of the Constitution as Marshall ruled in this case?
Fletcher v Peck • Argued: Thursday, February 15, 1810 • Decided: Friday, March 16, 1810 Facts of the Case • In 1795, the Georgia state legislature passed a bill selling land in the Yazoo River country to private speculators. The sale was then exposed in scandal as investors were chosen in return for bribes. Voters rejected most of the incumbents in the next election and the new legislature, reacting to the public outcry, repealed the law and voided transactions made under it. • John Peck had purchased land that had previously been sold under the 1795 act. Peck then sold this land to Robert Fletcher who was stripped of the newly bought land by the outcome of the scandal and the new Georgia legislature. In 1803, Fletcher brought suit against Peck, claiming that he did not have clear title to the land when he sold it.
Constitutional Question: • Is the private sale of land a “contract” and can a state pass a law violating a private agreement or sale?
Fletcher v Peck Article I, Section 10 - Contract Clause • No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility.
Fletcher v Peck Opinion of the Court; 7-0 • In a unanimous decision, Justice Marshall ruled that the state legislature's repeal of the law was unconstitutional. The opinion argued that the sale was a binding contract, which according to the Contract Clause of the Constitution cannot be invalidated, even if illegally secured – “It is, then, the unanimous opinion of the court, that, in this case, the estate having passed into the hands of a purchaser for a valuable consideration, without notice, the state of Georgia was restrained, either by general principles, which are common to our free institutions, or by the particular provisions of the constitution of the United States, from passing a law whereby the estate of the plaintiff in the premises so purchased could be constitutionally and legally impaired and rendered null and void.”
Question: • What are the limits of protecting private property and the right to conduct private business transactions in light of the Court support of the Contract Clause?
Worcester v Georgia • Decided:Saturday, March 3, 1832 Facts of the Case • In September 1831, the grand jurors for the county of Gwinnett in the state of Georgia, indicted: Samuel A. Worcester, and several others, “white persons of said county,” with the offence of 'residing within the limits of the Cherokee nation without a license.‘ This was in violation of a state preventing non-natives from living on the reservation without a permit. Constitutional Question • Does the state of Georgia have the power to regulate trade with the Cherokee Nation on the reservation?
Worcester v Georgia
Article I, Section 10 - Contract Clause • No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 - Commerce Clause Congress shall have the power…To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
Worcester v Georgia Opinion of the Court • In Worcester v. Georgia, the court struck down Georgia's extension laws. In the majority opinion Marshall wrote that the Indian nations were "distinct, independent political communities retaining their original natural rights" and that the United States had acknowledged as much in several treaties with the Cherokees. Although it had surrendered sovereign powers in those treaties with the United States, he wrote, the Cherokee Nation remained a separate, sovereign nation with a legitimate title to its national territory. – "The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community occupying its own territory in which the laws of Georgia can have no force. The whole intercourse between the United States and this nation, is, by our constitution and laws, vested in the government of the United States." --Chief Justice Marshall Question • How does this case attempt change the stance of the US government toward Indian tribes in light of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and the actions of President Jackson?
Cohens v Virginia • Argued: Tuesday, February 13, 1821 • Decided: Saturday, March 3, 1821 Facts of the Case • Philip and Mendes Cohen sold lottery tickets in Virginia under the authority of an act of Congress which created a lottery for the District of Columbia. The Cohens appealed their conviction for violating a Virginia state statute, which had banned such lotteries. Virginia asserted that the Eleventh Amendment precluded the Supreme Court from hearing the case and that section 25 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 did not apply.
Constitutional Question • Does the Court have the right to rule on a matter involving state law in which the state is a named appellee?
Cohens v Virginia 11th Amendment: •
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
The Judiciary Act of 1789; sec. 25: •
“And be it further enacted, That a final judgment or decree in any suit, in the highest court of law or equity of a State in which a decision in the suit could be had, where is drawn in question the validity of a treaty or statute of, or an authority exercised under the United States, and the decision is against their validity; or where is drawn in question the validity of a statute of, or an authority exercised under any State, on the ground of their being repugnant to the constitution, treaties or laws of the United States, and the decision is in favour of such their validity, or where is drawn in question the construction of any clause of the constitution, or of a treaty, or statute of, or commission held under the United States, and the decision is against the title, right, privilege or exemption specially set up or claimed by either party, under such clause of the said Constitution, treaty, statute or commission, may be re-examined and reversed or affirmed in the Supreme Court of the United States…”
Cohens v Virginia Opinion of the Court; 6-0
• The Cohens case reflected the effort by several states, including Virginia, to challenge John Marshall's opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). Marshall used Cohens as chance to reemphasize federal judicial power. He asserted that the Constitution made the Union supreme and that the federal judiciary was the ultimate constitutional arbiter. While the states could interpret their own laws, any federal question must ultimately be resolved only by the federal courts (sec. 25, Judiciary Act of 1789 ). According to the Court, the Eleventh Amendment did not prevent federal courts from deciding properly a legitimate federal question, even where a state was the appellee. • Marshall avoided Virginia’s noncompliance by upholding the convictions after asserting the power of the Federal bench. Question • How can you use the 11th Amendment to side with or against the Court? What aspects of the 11th Amendment are central to Marshall’s argument?
Hall, Kermit L., ed. The Oxford Companion to American Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Hartman, Gary, R., Roy M. Mersky, and Cindy L. Tate. Landmark Supreme Court Cases. New York, Facts on File, Inc., 2004.
The Oyez Project, www.Oyez.org, 2007.