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.”

U.S. v. Price (1966)

US Constitutional Law

U.S. v. Price
‘Murder in Mississippi’ by Norman Rockwell

In a controversial case involving assault and murder, the actions of both law enforcement officers and citizens of Neshoba County, Mississippi, amounted to the wanton execution of three unarmed African-Americans in the same year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born.

Having detained the men on grounds unestablished during the appeal, the now defendant Deputy Sheriff released them without charge in the early hours of a June morning, only to later pull their vehicle over on Highway 19, whereupon he removed them from the car and drove them in his own police vehicle, to an unpaved road located off the highway.

It was there that the respondent, along with another seventeen men, two of which included a Sheriff Rainey and Patrolman Willis of the Philadelphia, Mississippi Police Department collectively assaulted, shot and killed the men in cold blood, before removing their bodies to a dam construction site located roughly five miles southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Upon indictment to the District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the defendants were charged with direct violations of 18 U.S.C. §§  241 and 242, which read that:

“(§ 241) If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same….They shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

(§ 242) Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State….to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States….by reason of his color, or race….shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both….and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section….shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.”

Along with allegations that the assaults were violative of the now-deceased victims’ rights to trial under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

With consideration of the limitations of constitutional statute, and the precedent that such protections were only enforceable between citizens and States, the court held the convictions unlawful and the charges were thus dismissed by a grand jury, after which the United States appealed to U.S. Supreme Court in the hope of greater clarity of judgment.

Tackling § 242 first, the Court noted that while the officers were clearly acting under ‘color of law’ in a literal sense, nothing altered the fact that the same term applied not only to those employed by the State, but to all civilians of the United States, therefore the Court upheld the charges while holding that:

“[T]hey were participants in official lawlessness, acting in wilful concert with State officers and hence under color of law.”

While in relation to § 241, the Court highlighted that in U.S. v. Williams, the Court had held § 241 as inapplicable to the Fourteenth Amendment, however the overall decision came not from uniform judicial agreement, but a single ruling of res judicata, which left the issue of applicability unanswered until now.

It was at this point that the Court held instead, how:

“s 241 must be read as it is written-to reach conspiracies to injure any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States; that this language includes rights or privileges protected by the Fourteenth Amendment….”

While adding that:

“[T]he State, without the semblance of due process of law as required of it by the Fourteenth Amendment, used its sovereign power and office to release the victims from jail so that they were not charged and tried as required by law, but instead could be intercepted and killed. If the Fourteenth Amendment forbids denial of counsel, it clearly denounces denial of any trial at all.”

After which the Court promptly reversed and remanded the case back to the district court, while reminding the parties that:

“[A] decision interpreting a federal law in accordance with its historical design, to punish denials by State action of constitutional rights of the person can hardly be regarded as adversely affecting the wise adjustment between State responsibility and national control…”