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the amendment. It has a deeper and broader scope. It nullifies and makes void all State legislation, and State action of every kind, which impairs the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, or which injures them in life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or which denies to any of them the equal protection of the laws. It not only does this, but, in order that the national will, thus declared, may not be a mere brutum fulmen, the last section of the amendment invests Congress with power to enforce it by appropriate legislation. To enforce what? To enforce the prohibition. To adopt appropriate legislation for correcting the effects of such prohibited State laws and State acts, and thus to render them effectually null, void, and innocuous. This is the legislative power conferred upon Congress, and this is the whole of it. It does not invest Congress with power to legislate upon subjects which are within the domain of State legislation; but to provide modes of relief against State legislation, or State action, of the kind referred to. It does not authorize Congress to create a code of
. municipal laws for the regulation of private rights; but to privide modes of redress against the operation of State laws, and the action of State officers, executive or judicial, when these are subversive of the fundamental rights specified in the amendment. Positive rights and privileges are undoubtedly secured by the Fourteenth Amend ment; but they are secured by way of prohibition against State laws and State proceedings affecting those rights and privileges, and by power given to Congress to legislate for the purpose of carrying such prohibition into effect; and such legislation must necessarily be predicted upon such supposed State laws or State proceedings, and be directed to the correction of their operation and effect.
In the present case, until some State law has been passed, or some State action through its officers or agents has been taken, adverse to the rights of citizens sought to be protected by the Fourteenth amendment, no legislation of the United States under said amendment, nor any proceeding under such legislation, can be called into activity; for the prohibitions of the amendment are against State laws and acts done under State authority. Of course, legislation may, and should be, provided in advance to meet the exigency when it arises; but it should be adapted to the mischief and wrong which the amendment was intended to provide against; and that is, State laws, or State action of some kind, adverse to the rights of the citizen secured by the amendment. Such legislation cannot properly cover the whole domain of rights appertaining to life, liberty and property, defining them and providing for their vindication. That would be to establish a code of municipal law regulative of all private rights between man and man in society. It would be to make Congress take the place of the State legislatures and to supersede them. It is absurd to affirm that, because the rights of life, liberty and property (which include all civil rights that men have), are by the amendment sought to be protected against invasion on the part of the State without due process of law, Congress may therefore
provide due process of law for their vindication in every case; and that, because the denial by a State to any persons of the equal protection of the laws is prohibited by the amendment, therefore Congress may establish laws for their equal protection. In fine, the legislation which Congress is authorized to adopt in this behalf is not general legislation upon the rights of the citizen, but corrective legislation, that is, such as may be necessary and proper for counteracting such laws as the States may adopt or enforce, and which, by the amendment, they are prohibited from making or enforcing, or such acts and proceedings as the States may commit or take, and which, by the amendment, they are prohibited from committing or taking.
(The court comes to the conclusion that the act in question is not directed against any particular State action, and therefore is not within the power conferred on Congress by the amendment.)
STATE LAWS IMPAIRING THE OBLIGATION OF
Article 1, Section 10, of the Constitution of the United States provides "That no State shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts.”
DARTMOUTH COLLEGE v. WOODWARD.
4 WHEATON, 518. 1819.
Dartmouth College in New Hampshire had a charter granted by the British crown in 1769, by which twelve persons were incorporated as trustees and granted appropriate privileges and powers to conduct the affairs of the college, with authority to fill all vacancies in their own body. In 1816 the New Hampshire Legislature attempted to alter this charter by increasing the number of trustees, the additional members to be appointed by the governor, and placed the more important acts of the trustees under the control of a board of overseers. The trustees acting under the old charter brought an action of trover against Woodward, who was secretary of the body, claiming to act under the State law, for the recovery of certain of the college records and documents. The question to be decided was whether the statutes of New Hampshire were invalid as impairing the obligation of the contract involved in the original charter. The case was carried to the Supreme Court of the United States. MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the court.
This is plainly a contract to which the donors, the trustees, and the crown (to whose rights and obligations New Hamp
shire succeeds) were the original parties. It is a contract made on a valuable consideration. It is a contract for the security and disposition of property. It is a contract on the faith of which real and personal estate has been conveyed to the corporation. It is then a contract within the letter of the Constitution, and within its spirit
, also, unless the fact that the property is invested by the donors in trustees, for the promotion of religion and education, for the benefit of persons who are perpetually changing, though the objects remain the same, shall create a particular exception, taking this case out of the prohibition contained in the Constitution.
It is more than possible that the preservation of rights of this description was not particularly in the view of the framers of the Constitution, when the clause under consideration was introduced into that instrument. It is probable that interferences of more frequent recurrence, to which the temptation was stronger, and of which the mischief was more extensive, constituted the great motive for imposing this restriction on the State legislatures. But although a particular and a rare case may not, in itself, be of sufficient magnitude to induce a rule, yet it must be governed by the rule, when established, unless some plain and strong reason for excluding it can be given. It is not enough to say, that this particular case was not in the mind of the convention when the article was framed, nor of the American people when it was adopted. It is necessary to go further, and to say that, had this particular case been suggested, the language would have been so varied as to exclude it, or it would have been made a special exception. The case being within the words of the rule, must be within its operation likewise, unless there be something in the literal construction so obviously absurd or mischievous, or repugnant to the general spirit of the instrument, as to justify those who expound the Constitution in making it an exception.
The opinion of the court, after mature deliberation, is, that this is a contract the obligation of which cannot be impaired without violating the Constitution of the United States. This opinion appears to us to be equally supported by reason, and by the former decisions of this court.
2. We next proceed to the inquiry, whether its obligations has been impaired by those acts of the legislature of New Hampshire to which the special verdict refers.
From the review of this charter which has been taken, it appears that the whole power of governing the college, of appointing and removing tutors, of fixing their salaries, of directing the course of study to be pursued by the students, and of filling up vacancies created in their own body, was vested in the trustees. On the part of the crown, it was expressly stipulated that this corporation, thus constituted, should continue forever; and that the number of trustees should forever consist of twelve, and no more. By this contract the crown was bound, and could have made no violent alteration in its essential terms without impairing its obligation.
On the effect of this law, two opinions cannot be entertained. Between acting directly, and acting through the agency of trustees and overseers, no essential difference is perceived. The whole power of governing the college is transferred from trustees, appointed according to the will of the founder, expressed in the charter, to the executive of New Hampshire. The management and application of the funds of this eleemosynary institution, which are placed by the donors in the hands of trustees named in the charter, and empowered to perpetuate themselves, are placed by this act under the control of the government of the State. The will of the State is substituted for the will of the donors, in every essential operation of the college. This is not an immaterial change. The founders of the college contracted not merely for the perpetual application of the funds which they gave to the objects for which those funds were given; they contracted, also, to secure that application by the constitution of the corporation. They contracted for a system which should, as far as human foresight can provide, retain forever the government of the literary institution they had formed, in the hands of persons approved by themselves. This system it totally changed. The charter of 1769 exists no longer. It is reorganized; and reorganized in such a manner as to convert a literary institution, moulded according to the will of its founders, and placed under the control of private literary men, into a machine entirely subservient to the will of government. This may be for the advantage of this college in particular, and may be for the advantage of literature in general; but it is not according to the will of the donors, and is subversive of that contract on the faith of which their property was given. * * *
It results, from this opinion, that the acts of the legislature of New Hampshire, which are stated in the special verdict found in this cause, are repugnant to the Constitution of the United States; and that the judgment on this special verdict ought to have been for the plaintiffs. The judgment of the State Court must, therefore, be
THE BINGHAMPTON BRIDGE.
3 Wall., 51. 1865.
The Chenango Bridge Company was chartered in 1808 by the State of New York to build and maintain a bridge over the Chenango River at Binghampton, the charter containing a covenant that no other bridge should be built within a distance of two miles either way from the company's bridge. In 1855 the State of New York authorized the Binghampton Bridge Company to build a bridge across the Chenango River within the prescribed limits, which bridge was built and opened for travel, whereupon the Chenango Bridge Company sought to enjoin the Binghampton Bridge Company from using the bridge, claiming that the State's charter to the latter company was a law impairing the obligation of contracts and hence repugnant to the Constitution of the United States. The case was taken to the Supreme Court of the United States.
MR. JUSTICE Davis delivered the opinion of the court.
The constitutional right of one legislature to grant corporate privileges and franchises, so as to bind and conclude a succeeding one, has been denied. We have supposed, if anything was settled by an unbroken course of decisions in the Federal and State courts, it was that an act of incorporation was a contract between the State and the stockholders. All courts at this day are estopped from questioning the doctrine. The security of property rests upon it, and every successful enterprise is undertaken in the unshaken belief that it will never be forsaken.
A departure from it now would involve dangers to society that cannot be foreseen, would shock the sense of justice of the country, unhinge its business interests, and weaken, if not destroy, that respect which has always been felt for the judicial department of the government. An attempt even to reaffirm it could only tend to lessen its force and obligation. It received its ablest exposition in the case of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518, which case has ever since been considered a landmark by the profession, and no court has since disregarded the doctrine, that the charters of private corporations are contracts, protected from invasion by the Constitution of the United States. And it has since so often received the solemn sanction of this court, that it would unnecessarily lengthen this opinion to refer to the cases, or even enumerate them.
The principle is supported by reason as well as authority. It was well remarked by the chief justice in the Dartmouth College case, "that the objects for which a corporation is created are universally such as the government wishes to promote. They are deemed beneficial to the country, and this benefit constitutes the consideration, and in most cases the sole consideration for the grant.” The purposes to be attained are generally beyond the ability of individual enterprise, and can only be accomplished through the aid of associated wealth. This will not be risked unless privileges are given and securities furnished in an act of incorporation. The wants of the public are often so imperative, that a duty is imposed on government to provide for them; and as experience has proved that a State should not directly attempt to do this, it is necessary to confer on others the faculty of doing what the sovereign power is unwilling to undertake. The legislature, therefore, says to public-spirited citizens : "If you will embark, with your time, money, and skill, in an enterprise which will accommodate the public necessities, we will grant to you, for a limited period, or in perpetuity, privileges that will justify the expenditure of your money, and the employment of your time and skill.” Such a grant is a contract, with mutual con