PROPRIETORS OF CHARLES RIVER BRIDGE v. PROPRIETORS OF WARREN BRIDGE

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.

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….”

Satterlee v. Mathewson

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.”

Watson v. Mercer

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, where it had held that:

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

Providence Bank v. Billings

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.h

Hence, 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.”

ARVER v. U.S.

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 violated 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.

Here, the Court 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

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…”

 

U.S. v. CAROLENE PRODUCTS CO.

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.

Hence, it was for this fundamental reason that the Court dismissed the demurrer and reversed the judgment accordingly.

ALLGEYER v. STATE OF LOUISIANA

The powers of state legislation, while binding upon the citizens residing within its borders, doubtless remain subject to the supremacy of the constitution, and so on this occasion, a marine insurance policy drafted and bargained for in another part of the country, was held to allow for the unfettered rights of the insured, while reminding the pursuers that justice is a two-way process.

In the fall of 1894, the defendant cotton exporters negotiated an open marine insurance policy with providers based in New York. The terms of the agreement were drafted and released on the proviso that the defendant completed the transaction by way of written letter to the insurers operational address.

Around the same time, Act No.66 of the State of Louisiana was enacted, so as to prevent foreign insurance operators from issuing policies within the State unless licensed accordingly, as was expressed below:

“[A]ny person, firm or corporation who shall fill up, sign or issue in this state any certificate of insurance under an open marine policy, or who in any manner whatever does any act in this state to effect for himself, or for another, insurance on property then in this state, in any marine insurance company which has not complied in all respects with the laws of this state, shall be subject to a fine of one thousand dollars for each offense…”

Because the defendants were based in New Orleans, the claimants held that their entering into a contract with an insurance firm outside of Louisiana constituted a violation of those powers, and thus sought recovery of $3,000 in the courts.

In defence of the claim, it was argued that the terms of Act No.66 were unconstitutional in that such powers were an interference with the fundamental right to carry on business in a manner befitting the principles of the U.S. Constitution, while noting that the contract entered into was exempt from state jurisdiction, and executed in full accordance with the law.

While judgment was made in favour of the defendants, an appeal before the Supreme Court of Louisiana resulted in damages of £1000 for the claimants. It was at this point that the defendants requested a review by the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds that the judgment had been made in error.

With an appreciation of the absolute powers conferred under Act No.66 (or art.236), it was found by the Court that in State of Louisiana v. Williams the state court had ruled that:

“[A]n open policy of marine insurance, similar in all respects to the one herein described, and made by a foreign insurance company, not doing business within the state and having no agent therein, must be considered as made at the domicile of the company issuing the open policy, and that where in such case the insurance company had no agent in Louisiana it could not be considered as doing an insurance business within the state.”

State of Louisiana v. Williams

While it was further noted that the writing and despatch of the acceptance letter by the appellants, was therefore nothing more than consideration within the terms of the agreement, and not sufficient enough to serve as evidence that the policy was underwritten and concluded within the state of Louisiana. The Court also drew reference to Butchers’ Union Slaughterhouse Co v. Crescent City Live-Stock Landing Co., in which Bradley J stipulated how:

“[T]he right to follow any of the common occupations of life is an inalienable right. It was formulated as such under the phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ in the Declaration of Independence, which commenced with the fundamental proposition that ‘all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”

Butchers’ Union Slaughterhouse Co. v. Crescent City Live-Stock Landing Co.

And so, it was with these salient observations that the Court ruled Act No.66 as wholly unconstitutional to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which itself reads:

“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.”

And was therefore unsustainable as an argument for penalty; after which, it was held that the Louisiana Supreme Court decision be reversed in lieu of recommencement of proceedings in keeping with the original judgment, while the Court reminded the parties that:

“The mere fact that a citizen may be within the limits of a particular State does not prevent his making a contract outside its limits while he himself remains within it.”

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