Shevlin-Carpenter Co. v. State of Minn. (1910)

US Criminal Law

Shevlin
‘Fallen Timber’ by Jospeh Laverti

The constitutionality of statute drafted and designed to preserve the interests of a State, coupled with the presumption that such laws are irrelevant to the needs of commerce, provide the basis of a case where those later prosecuted are left arguing that word of mouth is sufficient grounds upon which to acquire property.

Having operated as a timber merchant under State licence, the plaintiff in error corporation found themselves in need of a second licence extension following the recent expiration of their previous reissue, and so instead of applying through the proper channels, chose to rely upon verbal declarations of State officials as to their ability to continue removing trees from government land.

For clarity at the time of the offence, § 7 of the Laws of Minnesota 1895 stated that:

“If any person, firm or corporation, without a valid and existing permit therefor, cuts or employs, or induces any other person, firm or corporation to cut, or assist in cutting any timber of whatsoever description, on state lands, or removes or carries away or employs, or induces or assists any other person, firm or corporation to remove or carry away any such timber, or other property, he shall be liable to the state in treble damages, if such trespass is adjudged to have been willful; but double damages only in case the trespass is adjudged to have been casual and involuntary….”

And so when the plaintiff in error’s activities were discovered, the defendant in error brought charges in the District Court of St. Louis County on grounds of wilful trespass, thus claiming treble damages as prescribed.

Here the court found for the defendant in error and awarded damages of around $44,000, whereupon the plaintiff in error challenged the judgment in the Minnesota Supreme Court, who upheld the judgment, while holding that:

“The Legislature may declare that a willful trespass upon the lands of another shall constitute a criminal offense and fix the limits of punishment therefor, either by fine or imprisonment, or by compensating the injured party in damages to be recovered in a civil action, or by both, as its judgment may dictate.”

After which the plaintiff in error appealed on grounds that it had acted in good faith and reliance upon the statements made by those with apparent authority, while in response the court referred to State v. Shevlin-Carpenter Co., in which it had earlier held that:

“Where the defendant is a willful trespasser, the measure of damages is the full value of the property at the time and place of demand; but, if he is only an unintentional or mistaken trespasser,-that is, where he honestly and reasonably believed that he had a legal right to take the property,-then the measure of damages is the value of the property at the time and place and in the condition it was taken.”

Before partially reversing their previous judgment and remanding the matter back in keeping with a significant reduction in damages, thus the plaintiff in error challenged the decision under writ of error in the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds that the statue was violative of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when denying due process, and that as such, no damages were due.

Having reexamined the facts and constitutional argument, along with the right to protect State property through appropriate statute, the Court reasoned that at no point was the questioned legislation hidden from view, nor remotely difficult to understand, while also noting that contrastingly, at no point in history had trespass ever been considered a harmless act.

In closing the Court also noted that despite the harshness of its construction, the State had proscribed the offence within constitutional bounds, and were therefore sound in their enforcement, after which it upheld the previous judgment in full, while holding that:

“[I]nnocence cannot be asserted of an action which violates existing law, and ignorance of the law will not excuse.”

Proprietors of Charles River Bridge v. Proprietors of Warren Bridge (1837)

US Constitutional Law

Charles River Bridge
‘City Scape (From Across the Charles River, Boston)’ by Frederick Kubitz

The suggestion of implied terms and the dutiful exercise of police powers, lie central to a case involving contracting parties whose pecuniary expectations lay in direct conflict with the need to serve the public interest, and who in turn held any notion of progress unconstitutional to the last.

Having been granted an Act of incorporation by the State for the purposes of constructing a bridge over the Charles River, Massachusetts in 1785, the plaintiffs in error were required to exact a toll on those travelling the bridge for a period not longer than forty years, while in 1792 the legislature extended the toll agreement by a further thirty years on the proviso that the bridge would then become the property of the State, and the tolls would cease, to which the plaintiffs in error acquiesced and undertook their prescribed duties without complaint or failure.

However in 1828, the State commissioned the defendants in error to build another bridge some 800 metres downriver, while on that occasion assuming full title some six years after its opening and application of a similar toll, upon which the plaintiffs in error quickly filed an injunctive suit in the Massachusetts Supreme Court on grounds that the planned construction of the second bridge was a breach of contract between the legislature and themselves, and was therefore violative of art. 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which reads in relevant part that:

“No State shall….pass any Bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts.…”

In the first instance the court dismissed the suit, and so the matter was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of error, whereupon the Court took the opportunity to review the argument and the facts at hand, while the plaintiffs in error fundamentally argued that when agreeing to commission the erection of the second bridge the State had by implication, retroactively controverted their express agreement to allow the plaintiffs in error a continued right to revenue and profit for the full seventy years.

Here the Court turned first to Satterlee v. Mathewson, in which it held that:

“[R]etrospective laws which do not impair the obligation of contracts, or partake of the character of ex post facto laws, are not condemned or forbidden….”

And that:

“There is nothing in the constitution of the United States, which forbids the legislature of a State to exercise judicial functions.”

While the Court further noted how in Watson v. Mercer it had held that:

“The constitution of the United States does not prohibit the states from passing retrospective laws generally; but only ex post facto laws.”

And so the Court reasoned that while the agreement between the State and the plaintiffs in error was one binding upon both parties, there was no single mention of any right to charge tolls, and so when the original Act expired, so too did the privilege to incur costs upon the community, while the Court also noted that the argument was one based solely upon implied rights alone, and how there was simply no written evidence upon which to bring a claim, while also referring to Providence Bank v. Billings, wherein it had held that:

“[T]he constitutionality of a measure depends, not on the degree of its exercise, but on its principle.”

And so on this occasion the plan and agreement to build the first bridge was by all rights fulfilled, therefore when allowing for population and socio-economic changes faced, it was nothing less than prudent governance to erect another bridge that allowed for free travel to the benefit of those using it, thus the legislature were merely exercising their police powers in the interests of its people, whereupon the Court upheld the Massachusetts Supreme Court judgment in full, while holding that:

“[A] state law may be retrospective in its character, and may divest vested rights, and yet not violate the constitution of the United States, unless it also impairs the obligation of a contract.”

The constitutional law section is now complete.

United States Law: A Case Study Collection

Constitutional Law 2
‘Flag’ by Jasper Johns

May 25 2018

I have to admit to feeling somewhat sad that this part of the book is now over, largely because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about American history through the historic cases studied, and also because my understanding and deep appreciation of the Federal Constitution has grown from being almost non-existent, to virtually integral to my fundamental outlook on life, while also helping me realise just how unprotected U.K. citizens are, despite the Human Rights Act 1998, and more especially because after the whole ‘Brexit’ travesty there is soon to be no more protection offered through the European Court of Human Rights.

In all honesty I feel I now identify more with America than ever before, and given that I’ve never visited the country, there are certainly more compelling reasons than ever to get that arranged, perhaps if I sell enough copies of this compendium, that moment might just arrive, who knows?

As a side note I also recently learned that my mother’s biological father was born and raised in San Francisco, so I guess that makes me part American, right?

Anyway, I digress, and so here is the list of cases that can be found in the constitutional law section of the compendium. I hope I haven’t missed any out, and I will close this chapter by saying that it’s been great fun going on this part of the journey, and I will certainly miss it.

Constitutional Law

1. Allgeyer v. State of Louisiana

2. Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett

3. Bolling v. Sharpe

4. Boumediene v. Bush

5. Brandenburg v. Ohio

6. Branzburg v. Hayes

7. Brown v. Board of Ed. of Topeka, Shawnee County, Kan.

8. Buckley v. Valeo

9. Bush v. Gore

10. Calder v. Bull

11. Chevron USA Inc. v. Natural Resources Defence Council Inc.

12. Chisholm v. Georgia

13. City of Boerne v. Flores

14. Cooper v. Aaron

15. Corfield v. Coryell

16. District of Columbia v. Heller

17. Dred Scott v. Sandford

18. Employment Div. Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith

19. Engel v. Vitale

20. Fletcher v. Peck

21. Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority

22. Gibbons v. Ogden

23. Gregory v. Ashcroft

24. Griswold v. Connecticut

25. Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

26. Katzenbach v. Morgan

27. Kennedy v. Louisiana

28. Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents

29. Lochner v. New York

30. Marbury v. Madison

31. M’Culloch v. State

32. National League of Cities v. Usery

33. Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs

34. New York City Transit Authority v. Beazer

35. New York v. U.S.

36. Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1

37. Plessy v. Ferguson

38. Poe v. Ullman

39. Printz v. U.S.

40. R.A.V. v. City of St.Paul, Minn.

41. Romer v. Evans

42. Slaughter-House Cases

43. U.S. v. Carolene Products Co.

44. U.S. v. Guest

45. U.S. v. Morrison

46. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

47. Whitney v. California

Arver v. U.S. (1918)

US Constitutional Law

Arver v. U.S.
‘On the Wire’ by Harvey Thomas Dunn

In a suit concerning the alleged servitude of previously disparate citizens, the meticulously prepared terms of the U.S. Constitution were construed to be no more than oppressive and unfair expectations of those living under their otherwise protective measures.

Art. I,  § 8, cl. 11 of the U.S. Constitution reads that Congress is empowered:

“To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water….”

And thus art. I, § 8, cl. 12 provides that Congress can:

“[R]aise and support armies….”

While art. I, § 8, cl. 18 further states that Congress has the power:

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.”

Those same constitutional powers are then supported by art. VI, cl. 2, which explains that:

“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.”

However in times of crisis, the Federal Constitution also provides that Congress is granted power:

“To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

Which denotes that while Congress was constitutionally free to raise armies by enlistment or compulsory draft, the actual construction of the U.S. militia was one left for individual States to arrange. 

Under the National Guard Act of 1903, those same militia use during the preceding civil wars were converted into the National Guard, while a further number were used to create the National Guard Reserve under the National Defense Act of 1916, both of which were then trained and organised by the individual States, thus when Congress enacted ‘An Act to authorize the President to increase temporarily the military establishment of the United States’  in 1917, a number of men argued that such legislation was violative of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which itself read that:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Despite which, all six of the defendants were convicted in the District Courts of both Minnesota and New York, before petitioning to the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of error, who duly reminded them of the above separation of powers under the Constitution, while also noting by way of example, that when referencing the definition of militia, art. 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 clearly explained:

“That every member of society hath a right to be protected in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and therefore is bound to contribute his proportion toward the expense of that protection, and yield his personal service when necessary, or an equivalent thereto.”

Therefore with little empathy for the petitioners’ complaints, the Court upheld the two district court judgments in full, while holding that:

“A default in exercising a duty may not be resorted to as a reason for denying its existence.”

Baender v. Barnett (1921)

US Criminal Law

Baender v. Bennett
‘Five Dollar Gold Coin’ by Toby Mikle

Confession to a crime under federal statute leads to the incarceration of a felon, who later cites a constitutional violation when revoking his awareness of the act imprisoned for.

Having been found in possession of counterfeit coin dies, the petitioner acquiesced to the charge and was summarily indicted and sentenced under 18 U.S.C.A. § 487, which reads:

“Whoever, without lawful authority, possesses any such die, hub, or mold, or any part thereof, or permits the same to be used for or in aid of the counterfeiting of any such coins of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than fifteen years, or both.”

Later claiming a violation of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the petitioner argued that the statute failed to acknowledge whether a charge of possession was established through conscious knowledge or by accidental means, a contention dismissed by the District Court of Northern California, who concluded:

“Such is the possession intended by the indictment, and such is the possession, the petitioner having pleaded guilty to the indictment, that he must be held to have had. Otherwise he was not guilty. He might have pleaded not guilty, and upon trial shown that he did not know the dies were in his possession.”

Appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner again cited that the statute was incriminating by effect, however, the Court referred to United States v. Kirby, in which it had stressed that:

“All laws should receive a sensible construction. General terms should be so limited in their application as not to lead to injustice, oppression, or an absurd consequence. It will always, therefore, be presumed that the Legislature intended exceptions to its language, which would avoid results of this character.”

While again in United States v. Jin Fuey Moy, the Court had later explained how:

“A statute must be construed, if fairly possible, so as to avoid, not only the conclusion that it is unconstitutional, but also grave doubts upon that score.”

Thus it was for these reasons that the Court held the previous decision as lawful, while reminding the petitioner that although the U.S. Constitution is designed to safeguard the needs and rights of its citizens, there was equal importance for Congress to enforce the punishment of those found possessing the means with which to duplicate, and thereby counterfeit, U.S. currency in all its forms.

Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)

US Constitutional Law

Brandenburg v Ohio
Image: ‘Freedom of Speech’ by Norman Rockwell

Freedom of speech and the right to incite action form the bedrock of the U.S. Constitution, however when threatened through state laws, the courts must preserve those liberties, even when used for immoral purposes. On this occasion, the propagation of racist and discriminatory rhetoric through a popular medium led to the conviction of a contributor, whereupon the defendant argued for his right to dissent.

In 1969, the now appellant was indicted and sentenced to a fine and imprisonment, after recorded television footage showed him partaking in a Klu Klux Klan rally designed to disseminate their plans for governmental challenge on grounds of perceived racial subjugation by Congress.

Under the terms of s.2923.13 of the Ohio Revised Code, and the now defunct Ohio Criminal Syndicalism Statute 1919, the appellant was charged with:

“Advocating the duty, necessity, propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform”

And:

“Voluntarily assembly with any society, group, or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism.”

Whereupon the appellant argued that such charges were in violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution, both of which read:

“(1) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(14)(1) All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Despite this inherent defence, the court unwaveringly held the conviction, after which the appellant sought the opinion of the Intermediate Appeal Court of Ohio, who again dismissed his contention outright. With presentation before the U.S. Supreme Court, the matter was naturally given greater consideration.

Having examined the footage and accompanying commentary, it was agreed that there was little to support the application of the 1919 statute when with consideration of the context in which the recording was made, there was insufficient evidence to suggest open advocation of violence, despite the presence of firearms and racially provocative speech amidst the poor quality of sound available.

It was this caveat which then drew early reference to cases such as De Jonge v. Oregon, in which the Court had held how:

“The right of peaceable assembly is a right cognate to those of free speech and free press and is equally fundamental”

That in turn led the Court to consider the relevance of the ‘clear and present danger’ test, as established in Schenck v. United States, where Justice Holmes explained that:

“The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.”

And Abrams v. United States, where he again remarked:

It is only the present danger of immediate evil or an intent to bring it about that warrants Congress in 1832 setting a limit to the expression of opinion where private rights are not concerned. Congress certainly cannot forbid all effort to change the mind of the country.”

Both of which remained a judicial truism until Gitlow v. People of State of New York, where he concluded how:

“Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth. The only difference between the expression of an opinion and an incitement in the narrower sense is the speaker’s enthusiasm for the result. Eloquence may set fire to reason….If in the long run the beliefs expressed in proletarian dictatorship are destined to be accepted by the dominant forces of the community, the only meaning of free speech is that they should be given their chance and have their way.”

Thus showing renewed appreciation of the constitutional rights afforded all American citizens, even when the premise of such speech stems from divisive and unconstitutional rationales. It was for this reason that the Court uniformly held that the fundamental right to assert ones opinions, regardless of who may or may not be offended, must be safeguarded on the principle that anything less would be an invasion of liberty and a dismantling of the only platform upon which to express civil discontent.

U.S. v. Carolene Products Co. (1938)

US Constitutional Law

US v Carolene Products Co
Image: ‘Oreo Cookies and Milk’ by Mick McGinty

Amendment rights and the need to protect against fraud, are central to a case involving a distributor of food products and the intervention by Congress in the interests of public safety when in 1938, a corporate entity was indicted under §§ 61 and 62 of the Filled Milk Act 1923.

After having shipped a number of containers of ‘Milnut’, a product that fell within the scope of the Act, and which resulted in a sentence of either imprisonment or a $1000 fine as per § 63, the now appellee was charged with illegal distribution and misrepresentation, within which § 62 clearly expressed how:

“It is declared that filled milk, as herein defined, is an adulterated article of food, injurious to the public health, and its sale constitutes a fraud upon the public. It shall be unlawful for any person to ship or deliver for shipment in interstate or foreign commerce, any filled milk.”

Whereupon the matter was taken to appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court under the Criminal Appeals Act 1907. Here, the appellee demurred that application of the 1923 Act was subject to the limitations prescribed by the tenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

And that seizure of the prohibited goods was a breach of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which expresses how:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

Therefore the decision by Congress to create and apply prohibitive legislation which conflicts with the aims of the Constitution, was both ultra vires and an affront to the privacy rights and freedoms of the individual citizens of the United States of America.

Contrastingly, the Court drew reference to Hebe Co. v. Shaw, in which the Supreme Court ruled that any state law forbidding the manufacture and sale of filled milk under § 6(c) of the 1923 Act, which clarified how:

“The term ‘filled milk’ means any milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed, evaporated, concentrated, Powdered, dried, or desiccated, to which has been added, or which has been blended or compounded with, any fat or oil other than milk fat, so that the resulting product is in imitation or semblance of milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed, evaporated, concentrated, powdered, dried, or desiccated.”

Was not an infringement of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which again stipulates that:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This translated that while the rights afforded under the Constitution were exempt from the wishes of Congress, the importance of public interest and compelling evidence submitted by the House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in relation to ‘doctored’ milk, justified the prevention of misrepresentation through sensitive regulation, as opposed to wanton deprivation of liberty or distortion of justice. Thus it was for this fundamental reason that the Court dismissed the demurrer and reversed the judgment accordingly.