Clause 1

Clause 1. No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing 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.

Treaties, Alliances, or Confederations

At the time of the Civil War, the Court relied on the prohibition on treaties, alliances, or confederations in holding that the Confederation formed by the seceding states could not be recognized as having any legal existence.2015 Today, the prohibition’s practical significance lies in the limitations that it implies upon the power of the states to deal with matters having a bearing upon international relations.

In the early case of Holmes v. Jennison,2016 Chief Justice Taney invoked it as a reason for holding that a state had no power to deliver up a fugitive from justice to a foreign state. More recently, the kindred idea that the responsibility for the conduct of foreign relations rests exclusively with the Federal Government prompted the Court to hold that, because the oil under the three-mile marginal belt along the California coast might well become the subject of international dispute, and because the ocean, including this three-mile belt, is of vital consequence to the nation in its desire to engage in commerce and to live in peace with the world, the Federal Government has paramount rights in and power over that belt, including full dominion over the resources of the soil under the water area.2017 In Skiriotes v. Florida,2018 the Court, on the other hand, ruled that this clause did not disable Florida from regulating the manner in which its own citizens may engage in sponge fishing outside its territorial waters. Speaking for a unanimous Court, Chief Justice Hughes declared, “When its action does not conflict with federal legislation, the sovereign authority of the State over the conduct of its citizens upon the high seas is analogous to the sovereign authority of the United States over its citizens in like circumstances.”2019

Bills of Credit

Within the sense of the Constitution, bills of credit signify a paper medium of exchange, intended to circulate between individuals, and between the government and individuals, for the ordinary purposes of society. It is immaterial whether the quality of legal tender is imparted to such paper. Interest-bearing certificates, in denominations not exceeding ten dollars, that were issued by loan offices established by the state of Missouri and made receivable in payment of taxes or other moneys due to the state, and in payment of the fees and salaries of state officers, were held to be bills of credit whose issuance was banned by this section.2020 The states are not forbidden, however, to issue coupons receivable for taxes,2021 nor to execute instruments binding themselves to pay money at a future day for services rendered or money borrowed.2022 Bills issued by state banks are not bills of credit;2023 it is immaterial that the state is the sole stockholder of the bank,2024 that the officers of the bank were elected by the state legislature,2025 or that the capital of the bank was raised by the sale of state bonds.2026

Legal Tender 2027

Relying on this clause, which applies only to the states and not to the Federal Government, the Supreme Court has held that, where the marshal of a state court received state bank notes in payment and discharge of an execution, the creditor was entitled to demand payment in gold or silver.2028 Because, however, there is nothing in the Constitution prohibiting a bank depositor from consenting when he draws a check that payment may be made by draft, a state law providing that checks drawn on local banks should, at the option of the bank, be payable in exchange drafts, was held valid.2029

Bills of Attainder

Statutes passed after the Civil War with the intent and result of excluding persons who had aided the Confederacy from following certain callings, by the device of requiring them to take an oath that they had never given such aid, were held invalid as being bills of attainder, as well as ex post facto laws.2030

Other attempts to raise bill-of-attainder claims have been unsuccessful. A Court majority denied that a municipal ordinance that required all employees to execute oaths that they had never been affiliated with Communist or similar organizations, violated the clause, on the grounds that the ordinance merely provided standards of qualifications and eligibility for employment.2031 A law that prohibited any person convicted of a felony and not subsequently pardoned from holding office in a waterfront union was not a bill of attainder because the “distinguishing feature of a bill of attainder is the substitution of a legislative for a judicial determination of guilt” and the prohibition “embodies no further implications of appellant’s guilt than are contained in his 1920 judicial conviction.”2032

Ex Post Facto Laws

Scope of the Provision.

The prohibition against state ex post facto laws, like the cognate restriction imposed on the Federal Government by § 9, relates only to penal and criminal legislation and not to civil laws that affect private rights adversely.2033 Distinguishing between civil and penal laws was at the heart of the Court’s decision in Smith v. Doe2034 upholding application of Alaska’s “Megan’s Law” to sex offenders who were convicted before the law’s enactment. The Alaska law requires released sex offenders to register with local police and also provides for public notification via the Internet. The Court accords “considerable deference” to legislative intent; if the legislature’s purpose was to enact a civil regulatory scheme, then the law can be ex post facto only if there is “the clearest proof ” of punitive effect.2035 Here, the Court determined, the legislative intent was civil and non-punitive—to promote public safety by “protecting the public from sex offenders.” The Court then identified several “useful guideposts” to aid analysis of whether a law intended to be non-punitive nonetheless has punitive effect. Registration and public notification of sex offenders are of recent origin, and are not viewed as a “traditional means of punishment.”2036 The Act does not subject the registrants to an “affirmative disability or restraint”; there is no physical restraint or occupational disbarment, and there is no restraint or supervision of living conditions, as there can be under conditions of probation. The fact that the law might deter future crimes does not make it punitive. All that is required, the Court explained, is a rational connection to a non-punitive purpose, and the statute need not be narrowly tailored to that end.2037 Nor is the act “excessive” in relation to its regulatory purpose.2038 Rather, the “means chosen are reasonable in light of the [state’s] non-punitive objective” of promoting public safety by giving its citizens information about former sex offenders, who, as a group, have an alarmingly high rate of recidivism.2039

There are three categories of ex post facto laws: those “which punish[ ] as a crime an act previously committed, which was innocent when done; which make[ ] more burdensome the punishment for a crime, after its commission; or which deprive[ ] one charged with crime of any defense available according to law at the time when the act was committed.”2040 The bar is directed only against legislative action and does not touch erroneous or inconsistent decisions by the courts.2041

The fact that a law is ex post facto and invalid as to crimes committed prior to its enactment does not affect its validity as to subsequent offenses.2042 A statute that mitigates the rigor of the law in force at the time the crime was committed,2043 or merely penalizes the continuance of conduct lawfully begun before its passage, is not ex post facto. Thus, measures penalizing the failure of a railroad to cut drains through existing embankments2044 or making illegal the continued possession of intoxicating liquors which were lawfully acquired2045 have been held valid.

Denial of Future Privileges to Past Offenders.

The right to practice a profession may be denied to one who was convicted of an offense before the statute was enacted if the offense reasonably may be regarded as a continuing disqualification for the profession. Without offending the Constitution, statutes barring a person from practicing medicine after conviction of a felony,2046 or excluding convicted felons from waterfront union offices unless pardoned or in receipt of a parole board’s good conduct certificate,2047 may be enforced against a person convicted before the measures were passed. But the test oath prescribed after the Civil War, under which office holders, attorneys, teachers, clergymen, and others were required to swear that they had not participated in the rebellion or expressed sympathy for it, was held invalid on the ground that it had no reasonable relation to fitness to perform official or professional duties, but rather was a punishment for past offenses.2048 A similar oath required of suitors in the courts also was held void.2049

Changes in Punishment.

Justice Chase in Calder v. Bull gave an alternative description of the four categories of ex post facto laws, two of which related to punishment. One such category was laws that inflict punishment “where the party was not, by law, liable to any punishment”; the other was laws that inflict greater punishment than was authorized when the crime was committed.2050

Illustrative of the first of these punishment categories is “a law enacted after expiration of a previously applicable statute of limitations period [as] applied to revive a previously time-barred prosecution.” Such a law, the Court ruled in Stogner v. California,2051 is prohibited as ex post facto. Courts that had upheld extension of unexpired statutes of limitation had been careful to distinguish situations in which the limitations periods have expired. The Court viewed revival of criminal liability after the law had granted a person “effective amnesty” as being “unfair” in the sense addressed by the Ex Post Facto Clause.

Illustrative of the second punishment category are statutes, all applicable to offenses committed prior to their enactment, that changed an indeterminate sentence law to require a judge to impose the maximum sentence,2052 that required solitary confinement for prisoners previously sentenced to death,2053 and that allowed a warden to fix, within limits of one week, and keep secret the time of execution.2054 Because it made more onerous the punishment for crimes committed before its enactment, a law that altered sentencing guidelines to make it more likely that the sentencing authority would impose on a defendant a more severe sentence than was previously likely and making it impossible for the defendant to challenge the sentence was ex post facto as to one who had committed the offense prior to the change.2055 The Court adopted similar reasoning regarding changes in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines: even though the Guidelines are advisory only, an increase in the applicable sentencing range is ex post facto if applied to a previously committed crime because of a significant risk of a lengthier sentence being imposed.2056 But laws providing heavier penalties for new crimes thereafter committed by habitual criminals,2057 “prescrib[ing] electrocution as the method of producing death instead of hanging, fix[ing] the place therefor within the penitentiary, and permitt[ing] the presence of more invited witnesses that had theretofore been allowed,”2058 or providing for close confinement of six to nine months in the penitentiary, in lieu of three to six months in jail prior to execution, and substituting the warden for the sheriff as hangman, have been sustained.2059

In Dobbert v. Florida,2060 the Court may have formulated a new test for determining when the punishment provided by a criminal statute is ex post facto. The defendant murdered two of his children at a time when Florida law provided the death penalty upon conviction for certain takings of life. Subsequently, the Supreme Court held capital sentencing laws similar to Florida’s unconstitutional, although convictions obtained under the statutes were not to be overturned,2061 and the Florida Supreme Court voided its death penalty statutes on the authority of the High Court decision. The Florida legislature then enacted a new capital punishment law, which was sustained. Dobbert was convicted and sentenced to death under the new law, which had been enacted after the commission of his offenses. The Court rejected the ex post facto challenge to the sentence on the basis that whether or not the old statute was constitutional, “it clearly indicated Florida’s view of the severity of murder and of the degree of punishment which the legislature wished to impose upon murderers. The statute was intended to provide maximum deterrence, and its existence on the statute books provided fair warning as to the degree of culpability which the State ascribed to the act of murder.”2062 Whether the “fair warning” standard is to have any prominent place in ex post facto jurisprudence may be an interesting question, but it is problematical whether the fact situation will occur often enough to make the principle applicable in many cases.

Changes in Procedure.

An accused person does not have a right to be tried in all respects in accordance with the law in force when the crime charged was committed.2063 Laws shifting the place of trial from one county to another,2064 increasing the number of appellate judges and dividing the appellate court into divisions,2065 granting a right of appeal to the state,2066 changing the method of selecting and summoning jurors,2067 making separate trials for persons jointly indicted a matter of discretion for the trial court rather than a matter of right,2068 and allowing a comparison of handwriting experts,2069 have been sustained over the objection that they were ex post facto. It was suggested in a number of these cases, and two decisions were rendered precisely on the basis, that the mode of procedure might be changed only so long as the “substantial” rights of the accused were not curtailed.2070 The Court has now disavowed this position.2071 All that the language of most of these cases meant was that a legislature might not evade the ex post facto clause by labeling changes as alteration of “procedure.” If a change labeled “procedural” effects a substantive change in the definition of a crime or increases punishment or denies a defense, the clause is invoked; however, if a law changes the procedures by which a criminal case is adjudicated, the clause is not implicated, regardless of the increase in the burden on a defendant.2072

Changes in evidentiary rules that allow conviction on less evidence than was required at the time the crime was committed can also run afoul of the ex post facto clause. This principle was applied in the Court’s invalidation of retroactive application of a Texas law that eliminated the requirement that the testimony of a sexual assault victim age 14 or older must be corroborated by two other witnesses, and allowed conviction on the victim’s testimony alone.2073

Obligation of Contracts

“Law” Defined.

The Contract Clause provides that no state may pass a “Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts,” and a “law” in this context may be a statute, constitutional provision,2074 municipal ordinance,2075 or administrative regulation having the force and operation of a statute.2076 But are judicial decisions within the clause? The abstract principle of the separation of powers, at least until recently, forbade the idea that the courts “make” law and the word “pass” in the above clause seemed to confine it to the formal and acknowledged methods of exercise of the law-making function. Accordingly, the Court has frequently said that the clause does not cover judicial decisions, however erroneous, or whatever their effect on existing contract rights.2077 Nevertheless, there are important exceptions to this rule that are set forth below.

Status of Judicial Decisions.

Although the highest state court usually has final authority in determining the construction as well as the validity of contracts entered into under the laws of the state, and federal courts will be bound by decisions of the highest state court on such matters, this rule does not hold when the contract is one whose obligation is alleged to have been impaired by state law.2078 Otherwise, the challenged state authority could be vindicated through the simple device of a modification or outright nullification by the state court of the contract rights in issue. Similarly, the highest state court usually has final authority in construing state statutes and determining their validity in relation to the state constitution. But this rule too has had to bend to some extent to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Contract Clause.2079

Suppose the following situation: (1) a municipality, acting under authority conferred by a state statute, has issued bonds in aid of a railway company; (2) the validity of this statute has been sustained by the highest state court; (3) later the state legislature repeals certain taxes to be used to pay off the bonds when they become due; (4) the repeal is sustained by a decision of the highest state court holding that the statute authorizing the bonds was unconstitutional ab initio. In such a case the Supreme Court would take an appeal from the state court and would reverse the latter’s decision of unconstitutionality because of its effect in rendering operative the repeal of the tax.2080

Suppose, however, that the state court has held the statute authorizing the bonds unconstitutional ab initio in a suit by a creditor for payment without the state legislature’s having repealed the taxes. In this situation, the Supreme Court would still afford relief if the case were one between citizens of different states, which reached it via a lower federal court.2081 This is because in cases of this nature the Court formerly felt free to determine questions of fundamental justice for itself. Indeed, in such a case, the Court in the past has apparently regarded itself as free to pass upon the constitutionality of the state law authorizing the bonds even though there had been no prior decision by the highest state court sustaining them, the idea being that contracts entered into simply on the faith of the presumed constitutionality of a state statute are entitled to this protection.2082

In other words, in cases in which it has jurisdiction because of diversity of citizenship, the Court has held that the obligation of contracts is capable of impairment by subsequent judicial decisions no less than by subsequent statutes, and that it is able to prevent such impairment. In cases, on the other hand, of which it obtains jurisdiction only on the constitutional ground and by appeal from a state court, it has always adhered in terms to the doctrine that the word “laws” as used in Article I, § 10, does not include judicial decisions. Yet, even in these cases, it will intervene to protect contracts entered into on the faith of existing decisions from an impairment that is the direct result of a reversal of such decisions, but there must be in the offing, as it were, a statute of some kind—one possibly many years older than the contract rights involved—on which to pin its decision.2083

In 1922, Congress, through an amendment to the Judicial Code, endeavored to extend the reviewing power of the Supreme Court to “any suit involving the validity of a contract wherein it is claimed that a change in the rule of law or construction of statutes by the highest court of a State applicable to such contract would be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States . . . .”2084 This appeared to be an invitation to the Court to say frankly that the obligation of a contract can be impaired by a subsequent court decision. The Court, however, declined the invitation in an opinion by Chief Justice Taft that reviewed many of the cases covered in the preceding paragraphs.

Dealing with Gelpcke and subsequent decisions, Chief Justice Taft said: “These cases were not writs of error to the Supreme Court of a State. They were appeals or writs of error to federal courts where recovery was sought upon municipal or county bonds or some other form of contracts, the validity of which had been sustained by decisions of the Supreme Court of a State prior to their execution, and had been denied by the same court after their issue or making. In such cases the federal courts exercising jurisdiction between citizens of different States held themselves free to decide what the state law was, and to enforce it as laid down by the State Supreme Court before the contracts were made rather than in later decisions. They did not base this conclusion on Article I, § 10, of the Federal Constitution, but on the state law as they determined it, which, in diverse citizenship cases, under the third Article of the Federal Constitution they were empowered to do. Burgess v. Seligman, 107 U.S. 20 [1883].”2085 Although doubtless this was an available explanation in 1924, the decision in 1938, in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins,2086 so cut down the power of the federal courts to decide diversity of citizenship cases according to their own notions of “general principles of common law” as to raise the question whether the Court will not be required eventually to put Gelpcke and its companions and descendants squarely on the Contract Clause or else abandon them.

“Obligation” Defined.

A contract is analyzable into two ele- ments: the agreement, which comes from the parties, and the obligation, which comes from the law and makes the agreement binding on the parties. The concept of obligation is an importation from the civil law and its appearance in the Contract Clause is supposed to have been due to James Wilson, a graduate of Scottish universities and a civilian. Actually, the term as used in the Contract Clause has been rendered more or less superfluous by the doctrine that “[t]he laws which exist at the time and place of the making of a contract, and where it is to be performed, enter into and form a part of it.”2087 Hence, the Court sometimes recognizes the term in its decisions applying the clause, and sometimes ignores it. In Sturges v. Crowninshield,2088 Chief Justice Marshall defined “obligation of contract” as the law that binds a party “to perform his undertaking,” but a little later the same year, in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, he set forth the points presented for consideration to be: “1. Is this contract protected by the constitution of the United States? 2. Is it impaired by the acts under which the defendant holds?”2089 The word “obligation” undoubtedly implies that the Constitution was intended to protect only executory contracts—i.e., contracts still awaiting performance—but this implication was rejected early on for a certain class of contracts, with immensely important result for the clause.

“Impair” Defined.

“The obligations of a contract,” said Chief Justice Hughes for the Court in Home Building & Loan Ass’n v. Blaisdell,2090 “are impaired by a law which renders them invalid, or releases or extinguishes them . . . , and impairment . . . has been predicated upon laws which without destroying contracts derogate from substantial contractual rights.”2091 But he adds: “Not only are existing laws read into contracts in order to fix obligations as between the parties, but the reservation of essential attributes of sovereign power is also read into contracts as a postulate of the legal order. The policy of protecting contracts against impairment presupposes the maintenance of a government by virtue of which contractual relations are worthwhile,—a government which retains adequate authority to secure the peace and good order of society. This principle of harmonizing the constitutional prohibition with the necessary residuum of state power has had progressive recognition in the decisions of this Court.”2092 In short, the law from which the obligation stems must be understood to include constitutional law and, moreover a “progressive” constitutional law.2093

Vested Rights Not Included.

The term “contracts” is used in the Contract Clause in its popular sense of an agreement of minds. The clause therefore does not protect vested rights that are not referable to such an agreement between the state and an individual, such as the right of recovery under a judgment. The individual in question may have a case under the Fourteenth Amendment, but not one under Article I, § 10.2094

Public Grants That Are Not “Contracts”.

Not all grants by a state constitute “contracts” within the sense of Article I, § 10. In his Dartmouth College decision, Chief Justice Marshall conceded that “if the act of incorporation be a grant of political power, if it creates a civil institution, to be employed in the administration of the government . . . the subject is one in which the legislature of the State may act according to its own judgment,” unrestrained by the Constitution2095 —thereby drawing a line between “public” and “private” corporations that remained undisturbed for more than half a century.2096

It has been subsequently held many times that municipal corporations are mere instrumentalities of the state for the more convenient administration of local governments, whose powers may be enlarged, abridged, or entirely withdrawn at the pleasure of the legislature.2097 The same principle applies, moreover, to the property rights that the municipality derives either directly or indirectly from the state. This was first held as to the grant of a franchise to a municipality to operate a ferry and has since then been recognized as the universal rule.2098 It was stated in a case decided in 1923 that the distinction between the municipality as an agent of the state for governmental purposes and as an organization to care for local needs in a private or proprietary capacity, though it limited the legal liability of municipalities for the negligent acts or omissions of its officers or agents, did not, however, furnish ground for the application of constitutional restraints against the state in favor of its own municipalities.2099 Thus, no contract rights were impaired by a statute relocating a county seat, even though the former location was by law to be “permanent” and the citizens of the community had donated land and furnished bonds for the erection of public buildings.2100 Similarly, a statute changing the boundaries of a school district, giving to the new district the property within its limits that had belonged to the former district, and requiring the new district to assume the debts of the old district, did not impair the obligation of contracts.2101 Nor was the Contract Clause violated by state legislation authorizing state control over insolvent communities through a Municipal Finance Commission.2102

On the same ground of public agency, neither appointment nor election to public office creates a contract in the sense of Article I, § 10, whether as to tenure, or salary, or duties, all of which remain, so far as the Constitution of the United States is concerned, subject to legislative modification or outright repeal.2103 Indeed, there can be no such thing in this country as property in office, although the common law sustained a different view sometimes reflected in early cases.2104 When, however, services have once been rendered, there arises an implied contract that they shall be compensated at the rate in force at the time they were rendered.2105 Also, an express contract between the state and an individual for the performance of specific services falls within the protection of the Constitution. Thus, a contract made by the governor pursuant to a statute authorizing the appointment of a commissioner to conduct, over a period of years, a geological, mineralogical, and agricultural survey of the state, for which a definite sum had been authorized, was held to have been impaired by repeal of the statute.2106 But a resolution of a local board of education reducing teachers’ salaries for the school year 1933–1934, pursuant to an act of the legislature authorizing such action, was held not to impair the contract of a teacher who, having served three years, was by earlier legislation exempt from having his salary reduced except for inefficiency or misconduct.2107 Similarly, the Court held that an Illinois statute that reduced the annuity payable to retired teachers under an earlier act did not violate the Contract Clause, because it had not been the intention of the earlier act to propose a contract but only to put into effect a general policy.2108 On the other hand, the right a teacher whose position had become “permanent” under the Indiana Teachers Tenure Act of 1927, to continued employment was held to be contractual and to have been impaired by the repeal in 1933 of the earlier act.2109

Tax Exemptions: When Not “Contracts”.

From a different point of view, the Court has sought to distinguish between grants of privileges, whether to individuals or to corporations, which are contracts and those which are mere revocable licenses, although on account of the doctrine of presumed consideration mentioned earlier, this has not always been easy to do. In pursuance of the precedent set in New Jersey v. Wilson,2110 the legislature of a state “may exempt particular parcels of property or the property of particular persons or corporations from taxation, either for a specified period or perpetually, or may limit the amount or rate of taxation, to which such property shall be subjected,” and such an exemption is frequently a contract within the sense of the Constitution. Indeed this is always so when the immunity is conferred upon a corporation by the clear terms of its charter.2111 When, on the other hand, an immunity of this sort springs from general law, its precise nature is more open to doubt, as a comparison of decisions will serve to illustrate.

In State Bank of Ohio v. Knoop,2112 a closely divided Court held that a general banking law of Ohio, which provided that companies complying therewith and their stockholders should be exempt from all but certain taxes, was, as to a bank organized under it and its stockholders, a contract within the meaning of Article I, § 10. The provision was not, the Court said, “a legislative command nor a rule of taxation until changed, but a contract stipulating against any change, from the nature of the language used and the circumstances under which it was adopted.”2113 When, however, the State of Michigan pledged itself, by a general legislative act, not to tax any corporation, company, or individual undertaking to manufacture salt in the state from water there obtained by boring on property used for this purpose and, furthermore, to pay a bounty on the salt so manufactured, it was held not to have engaged itself within the constitutional sense. “General encouragements,” the Court wrote, “held out to all persons indiscriminately, to engage in a particular trade or manufacture, whether such encouragement be in the shape of bounties or drawbacks, or other advantage, are always under the legislative control, and may be discontinued at any time.”2114 So far as exemption from taxation is concerned the difference between these two cases is obviously slight, but the later one is unquestionable authority for the proposition that legislative bounties are repealable at will.

Furthermore, exemptions from taxation have in certain cases been treated as gratuities repealable at will, even when conferred by specific legislative enactments. This would seem always to be the case when the beneficiaries were already in existence when the exemption was created and did nothing of a more positive nature to qualify for it than to continue in existence.2115 Yet the cases are not always easy to explain in relation to each other, except in light of the fact that the Court’s point of view has altered from time to time.2116

“Contracts” Include Public Contracts and Corporate Charters.

The question, which was settled very early, was whether the clause was intended to be applied solely in protection of private contracts or in the protection also of public grants, or, more broadly, in protection of public contracts, in short, those to which a state is a party.2117 Support for the affirmative answer accorded this question could be derived from the following sources. For one thing, the clause departed from the comparable provision in the Northwest Ordinance (1787) in two respects: first, in the presence of the word “obligation;” secondly, in the absence of the word “private.” There is good reason for believing that James Wilson may have been responsible for both alterations, as two years earlier he had denounced a current proposal to repeal the Bank of North America’s Pennsylvania charter in the following words: “If the act for incorporating the subscribers to the Bank of North America shall be repealed in this manner, every precedent will be established for repealing, in the same manner, every other legislative charter in Pennsylvania. A pretence, as specious as any that can be alleged on this occasion, will never be wanting on any future occasion. Those acts of the state, which have hitherto been considered as the sure anchors of privilege and of property, will become the sport of every varying gust of politicks, and will float wildly backwards and forwards on the irregular and impetuous tides of party and faction.”2118

Furthermore, in its first important constitutional case, Chisholm v. Georgia,2119 the Court ruled that its original jurisdiction extended to an action in assumpsit brought by a citizen of South Carolina against the State of Georgia. This construction of the federal judicial power was, to be sure, promptly repealed by the Eleventh Amendment, but without affecting the implication that the contracts protected by the Constitution included public contracts.

One important source of this diversity of opinion is to be found in that ever welling spring of constitutional doctrine in early days, the prevalence of natural law notions and the resulting vague significance of the term “law.” In Sturges v. Crowninshield, Chief Justice Marshall defined the obligation of contract as the law that binds a party “to perform his undertaking.”2120 Whence, however, comes this law? If it comes from the state alone, which Marshall was later to deny even as to private contracts,2121 then it is hardly possible to hold that the states’ own contracts are covered by the clause, which manifestly does not create an obligation for contracts but only protects such obligation as already exists. But, if, on the other hand, the law furnishing the obligation of contracts comprises natural law and kindred principles, as well as law that springs from state authority, then, as the state itself is presumably bound by such principles, the state’s own obligations, so far as harmonious with them, are covered by the clause.

Fletcher v. Peck2122 has the double claim to fame that it was the first case in which the Supreme Court held a state enactment to be in conflict with the Constitution, and also the first case to hold that the Contract Clause protected public grants. By an act passed on January 7, 1795, the Georgia Legislature directed the sale to four land companies of public lands comprising most of what are now the States of Alabama and Mississippi. As soon became known, the passage of the measure had been secured by open and wholesale bribery. So when a new legislature took over in the winter of 1795–1796, almost its first act was to revoke the sale made the previous year.

Meantime, however, the land companies had disposed of several millions of acres of their holdings to speculators and prospective settlers, and following the rescinding act some of these took counsel with Alexander Hamilton as to their rights. In an opinion which was undoubtedly known to the Court when it decided Fletcher v. Peck, Hamilton characterized the repeal as contravening “the first principles of natural justice and social policy,” especially so far as it was made “to the prejudice . . . of third persons . . . innocent of the alleged fraud or corruption; . . . moreover,” he added, “the Constitution of the United States, article first, section tenth, declares that no State shall pass a law impairing the obligations of contract. This must be equivalent to saying no State shall pass a law revoking, invalidating, or altering a contract. Every grant from one to another, whether the grantor be a State or an individual, is virtually a contract that the grantee shall hold and enjoy the thing granted against the grantor, and his representatives. It, therefore, appears to me that taking the terms of the Constitution in their large sense, and giving them effect according to the general spirit and policy of the provisions, the revocation of the grant by the act of the legislature of Georgia may justly be considered as contrary to the Constitution of the United States, and, therefore null. And that the courts of the United States, in cases within their jurisdiction, will be likely to pronounce it so.”2123 Hamilton’s views were quoted frequently in the congressional debate over the “Yazoo Land Frauds,” as they were contemporaneously known.

So far as it invoked the Contract Clause, Marshall’s opinion in Fletcher v. Peck performed two creative acts. It recognized that an obligatory contract was one still to be performed—in other words, was an executory contract, also that a grant of land was an executed contract—a conveyance. But, Marshall asserted, every grant is attended by “an implied contract” on the part of the grantor not to claim again the thing granted. Thus, grants are brought within the category of contracts having continuing obligation and so within Article I, § 10. But the question still remained of the nature of this obligation. Marshall’s answer to this can only be inferred from his statement at the end of his opinion. The State of Georgia, he says, “was restrained” from the passing of the rescinding act “either by general principles which are common to our free institutions, or by particular provisions of the Constitution of the United States.”2124

The protection thus thrown about land grants was presently extended, in the case of New Jersey v. Wilson,2125 to a grant of immunity from taxation that the State of New Jersey had accorded certain Indian lands, and several years after that, in Dartmouth College,2126 to the charter privileges of an eleemosynary corporation.

In City of El Paso v. Simmons,2127 the Court held, over a vigorous dissent by Justice Black, that Texas had not violated this clause when it amended its laws governing the sale of public lands so as to restrict the previously unlimited right of a delinquent to reinstate himself upon forfeited land by a single payment of all past interest due.

Corporate Charters: Different Ways of Regarding.

There are three ways in which the charter of a corporation may be regarded. In the first place, it may be thought of simply as a license terminable at will by the state, like a liquor-seller’s license or an auctioneer’s license, but affording the incorporators, so long as it remains in force, the privileges and advantages of doing business in the form of a corporation. Nowadays, indeed, when corporate charters are usually issued to all legally qualified applicants by an administrative officer who acts under a general statute, this would probably seem to be the natural way of regarding them were it not for the Dartmouth College decision. But, in 1819 charters were granted directly by the state legislatures in the form of special acts and there were very few profit-taking corporations in the country. The later extension of the benefits of the Dartmouth College decision to corporations organized under general law took place without discussion.

Secondly, a corporate charter may be regarded as a franchise constituting a vested or property interest in the hands of the holders, and therefore as forfeitable only for abuse or in accordance with its own terms. This is the way in which some of the early state courts did regard them at the outset.2128 It is also the way in which Blackstone regarded them in relation to the royal prerogative, although not in relation to the sovereignty of Parliament, and the same point of view found expression in Story’s concurring opinion in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, as it did also in Webster’s argument in that case.2129

The third view is the one formulated by Chief Justice Marshall in his controlling opinion in Dartmouth College v. Woodward.2130 This is that the charter of Dartmouth College, a purely private institution, was the outcome and partial record of a contract between the donors of the college, on the one hand, and the British Crown, on the other, and the contract still continued in force between the State of New Hampshire, as the successor to the Crown and Government of Great Britain, and the trustees, as successors to the donors. The charter, in other words, was not simply a grant—rather it was the documentary record of a still existent agreement between still existent parties.2131 Taking this view, which he developed with great ingenuity and persuasiveness, Marshall was able to appeal to the Contract Clause directly, and without further use of his fiction in Fletcher v. Peck of an executory contract accompanying the grant.

A difficulty still remained, however, in the requirement that a contract, before it can have obligation, must import consideration, that is to say, must be shown not to have been entirely gratuitous on either side. Moreover, the consideration, which induced the Crown to grant a charter to Dartmouth College, was not merely a speculative one. It consisted of the donations of the donors to the important public interest of education. Fortunately or unfortunately, in dealing with this phase of the case, Marshall used more sweeping terms than were needed. “The objects for which a corporation is created,” he wrote, “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 of the grant.” In other words, the simple fact of the charter having been granted imports consideration from the point of view of the state.2132 With this doctrine before it, the Court in Providence Bank v. Billings,2133 and again in Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge,2134 admitted, without discussion of the point, the applicability of the Dartmouth College decision to purely business concerns.

Reservation of Right to Alter or Repeal Corporate Charters.

There are four principles or doctrines by which the Court has broken down the force of the Dartmouth College decision in great measure in favor of state legislative power. By the logic of Dartmouth College itself, the state may reserve in a corporate charter the right to “amend, alter, and repeal” the same, and such reservation becomes a part of the contract between the state and the incorporators, the obligation of which is accordingly not impaired by the exercise of the right.2135 Later decisions recognize that the state may reserve the right to amend, alter, and repeal by general law, with the result of incorporating the reservation in all charters of subsequent date.2136 There is, however, a difference between a reservation by a statute and one by constitutional provision. Although the former may be repealed as to a subsequent charter by the specific terms thereof, the latter may not.2137

Is the right reserved by a state to “amend” or “alter” a charter without restriction? When it is accompanied, as it generally is, by the right to “repeal,” one would suppose that the answer to this question was self-evident. Nonetheless, there is judicial dicta to the effect that this power is not without limit, that it must be exercised reasonably and in good faith, and that the alterations made must be consistent with the scope and object of the grant.2138 Yet, although some state courts have applied tests of this nature to the disallowance of legislation, the U.S. Supreme Court has apparently never done so.2139

It is quite different with respect to the distinction that some cases point out between, on the one hand, the franchises and privileges that a corporation derives from its charter, and, on the other hand, the rights of property and contract that accrue to it in the course of its existence. Even the outright repeal of the former does not wipe out the latter or cause them to escheat to the state. The primary heirs of the defunct organization are its creditors, but whatever of value remains after their valid claims are met goes to the former shareholders.2140 By the earlier weight of authority, however, persons who contract with companies whose charters are subject to legislative amendment or repeal do so at their own risk; any “such contracts made between individuals and the corporation do not vary or in any manner change or modify the relation between the State and the corporation in respect to the right of the State to alter, modify, or amend such a charter . . . .”2141 But later holdings becloud this rule.2142

Corporation Subject to the Law and Police Power.

But sup- pose that the state neglects to reserve the right to amend, alter, or repeal. Is it, then, without power to control its corporate creatures? By no means. Private corporations, like other private persons, are always presumed to be subject to the legislative power of the state, from which it follows that immunities conferred by charter are to be treated as exceptions to an otherwise controlling rule. This principle was recognized by Chief Justice Marshall in Providence Bank v. Billings,2143 which held that, in the absence of express stipulation or reasonable implication to the contrary in its charter, the bank was subject to the state’s taxing power, notwithstanding that the power to tax is the power to destroy.

And of course the same principle is equally applicable to the exercise by the state of its police powers. Thus, in what was perhaps the leading case before the Civil War, the Supreme Court of Vermont held that the legislature of that state had the right, in furtherance of the public safety, to require chartered companies operating railways to fence in their tracks and provide cattle guards. In a matter of this nature, said the court, corporations are on a level with individuals engaged in the same business, unless, from their charter, they can prove the contrary.2144 Since then the rule has been applied many times in justification of state regulation of railroads,2145 and even of the application of a state prohibition law to a company that had been chartered expressly to manufacture beer.2146

Strict Construction of Charters, Tax Exemptions.

Long be- fore the cases last cited were decided, the principle that they illustrate had come to be powerfully reinforced by two others, the first of which is that all charter privileges and immunities are to be strictly construed as against the claims of the state, or as it is otherwise often phrased, “nothing passes by implication in a public grant.”

The leading case was Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge,2147 which was decided by a substantially new Court shortly after Chief Justice Marshall’s death. The question at issue was whether the charter of the complaining company, which authorized it to operate a toll bridge, stood in the way of the state’s permitting another company of later date to operate a free bridge in the immediate vicinity. Because the first company could point to no clause in its charter specifically vesting it with an exclusive right, the Court held the charter of the second company to be valid on the principle just stated. Justice Story presented a vigorous dissent in which he argued cogently, but unavailingly, that the monopoly claimed by the Charles River Bridge Company was fully as reasonable an implication from the terms of its charter and the circumstances surrounding its concession as perpetuity had been from the terms of the Dartmouth College charter and the ensuing transaction.

The Court was in fact making new law, because it was looking at things from a new point of view. This was the period when judicial recognition of the police power began to take on a doctrinal character. It was also the period when the railroad business was just beginning. Chief Justice Taney’s opinion evinces the influence of both these developments. The power of the state to provide for its own internal happiness and prosperity was not, he asserted, to be pared away by mere legal intendments, nor was its ability to avail itself of the lights of modern science to be frustrated by obsolete interests such as those of the old turnpike companies, the charter privileges of which, he apprehended, might easily become a bar to the development of transportation along new lines.2148

The Court has reiterated the rule of strict construction many times. In Blair v. City of Chicago,2149 decided nearly seventy years after Charles River Bridge, the Court said: “Legislative grants of this character should be in such unequivocal form of expression that the legislative mind may be distinctly impressed with their character and import, in order that the privileges may be intelligently granted or purposely withheld. It is a matter of common knowledge that grants of this character are usually prepared by those interested in them, and submitted to the legislature with a view to obtain from such bodies the most liberal grant of privileges which they are willing to give. This is one among many reasons why they are to be strictly construed. . . . The principle is this, that all rights which are asserted against the State must be clearly defined, and not raised by inference or presumption; and if the charter is silent about a power, it does not exist. If, on a fair reading of the instrument, reasonable doubts arise as to the proper interpretation to be given to it, those doubts are to be solved in favor of the State; and where it is susceptible of two meanings, the one restricting and the other extending the powers of the corporation, that construction is to be adopted which works the least harm to the State.”2150

An excellent illustration of the operation of the rule in relation to tax exemptions was furnished by the derivative doctrine that an immunity of this character must be deemed as intended solely for the benefit of the corporation receiving it and hence, in the absence of express permission by the state, may not be passed on to a successor.2151 Thus, where two companies, each exempt from taxation, were permitted by the legislature to consolidate, the new corporation was held to be subject to taxation.2152 Again, a statute that granted a corporation all “the rights and privileges” of an earlier corporation was held not to confer the latter’s “immunity” from taxation.2153 Yet again, a legislative authorization of the transfer by one corporation to another of the former’s “estate, property, right, privileges, and franchises” was held not to clothe the later company with the earlier one’s exemption from taxation.2154

Furthermore, an exemption from taxation is to be strictly construed even in the hands of one clearly entitled to it. Thus, the exemption conferred by its charter on a railway company was held not to extend to branch roads it constructed pursuant to a later statute.2155 Also, a general exemption of the property of a corporation from taxation was held to refer only to the property actually employed in its business.2156 And, the charter exemption of the capital stock of a railroad from taxation “for ten years after completion of the said road” was held not to become operative until the completion of the road.2157 So also the exemption of the campus and endowment fund of a college was held to leave other lands of the college, though a part of its endowment, subject to taxation.2158 Provisions in a statute that bonds of the state and its political subdivisions were not to be taxed and should not be taxed were held not to exempt interest on them from taxation as income of the owners.2159

Strict Construction and the Police Power.

The police power, too, has frequently benefitted from the doctrine of strict construction, although this recourse is today seldom, if ever, necessary in this connection. Some of the more striking cases may be briefly summarized. The provision in the charter of a railway company permitting it to set reasonable charges still left the legislature free to determine what charges were reasonable.2160 However, when a railway agreed to accept certain rates for a specified period, it thereby foreclosed the question of the reasonableness of such rates.2161 The grant to a company of the right to supply a city with water for twenty-five years was held not to prevent a similar concession to another company by the same city.2162 The promise by a city in the charter of a water company not to make a similar grant to any other person or corporation was held not to prevent the city itself from engaging in the business.2163 A municipal concession to a water company to run for thirty years, and accompanied by the provision that the “said company shall charge the following rates,” was held not to prevent the city from reducing such rates.2164 But more broadly, the grant to a municipality of the power to regulate the charges of public service companies was held not to bestow the right to contract away this power.2165 Indeed, any claim by a private corporation that it received the ratemaking power from a municipality must survive a two-fold challenge: first, as to the right of the municipality under its charter to make such a grant, secondly, as to whether it has actually done so, and in both respects an affirmative answer must be based on express words and not on implication.2166

Doctrine of Inalienability as Applied to Eminent Domain, Taxing, and Police Powers.

The second of the doctrines men- tioned above, whereby the principle of the subordination of all persons, corporate and individual alike, to the legislative power of the state has been fortified, is the doctrine that certain of the state’s powers are inalienable, and that any attempt by a state to alienate them, upon any consideration whatsoever, is ipso facto void and hence incapable to producing a “contract” within the meaning of Article I, § 10. One of the earliest cases to assert this principle was decided in New York in 1826. The corporation of the City of New York, having conveyed certain lands for the purposes of a church and cemetery together with a covenant for quiet enjoyment, later passed a by-law forbidding their use as a cemetery. In denying an action against the city for breach of covenant, the state court said the defendants “had no power as a party, [to the covenant] to make a contract which should control or embarrass their legislative powers and duties.”2167

The Supreme Court first applied similar doctrine in 1848 in a case involving a grant of exclusive right to construct a bridge at a specified locality. Sustaining the right of the State of Vermont to make a new grant to a competing company, the Court held that the obligation of the earlier exclusive grant was sufficiently recognized in making just compensation for it; and that corporate franchises, like all other forms of property, are subject to the overruling power of eminent domain.2168 This reasoning was reinforced by an appeal to the theory of state sovereignty, which was held to involve the corollary of the inalienability of all the principal powers of a state.

The subordination of all charter rights and privileges to the power of eminent domain has been maintained by the Court ever since; not even an explicit agreement by the state to forego the exercise of the power will avail against it.2169 Conversely, the state may revoke an improvident grant of public property without recourse to the power of eminent domain, such a grant being inherently beyond the power of the state to make. Thus, when the legislature of Illinois in 1869 devised to the Illinois Central Railroad Company, its successors and assigns, the state’s right and title to nearly a thousand acres of submerged land under Lake Michigan along the harbor front of Chicago, and four years later sought to repeal the grant, the Court, a four-to-three decision, sustained an action by the state to recover the lands in question. Justice Field wrote for the majority: “Such abdication is not consistent with the exercise of that trust which requires the government of the State to preserve such waters for the use of public. The trust devolving upon the State for the public, and which can only be discharged by the management and control of property in which the public has an interest, cannot be relinquished by a transfer of the property. . . . Any grant of the kind is necessarily revocable, and the exercise of the trust by which the property was held by the State can be resumed at any time.”2170

On the other hand, repeated endeavors to subject tax exemptions to the doctrine of inalienability, though at times supported by powerful minorities on the Bench, have failed.2171 As recently as January 1952, the Court ruled that the Georgia Railway Company was entitled to seek an injunction in the federal courts against an attempt by Georgia’s Revenue Commission to compel it to pay ad valorem taxes contrary to the terms of its special charter issued in 1833. In answer to the argument that this was a suit contrary to the Eleventh Amendment, the Court declared that the immunity from federal jurisdiction created by the Amendment “does not extend to individuals who act as officers without constitutional authority.”2172

The leading case involving the police power is Stone v. Mississippi.2173 In 1867, the legislature of Mississippi chartered a company to which it expressly granted the power to conduct a lottery. Two years later, the state adopted a new Constitution which contained a provision forbidding lotteries, and a year later the legislature passed an act to put this provision into effect. In upholding this act and the constitutional provision on which it was based, the Court said: “The power of governing is a trust committed by the people to the government, no part of which can be granted away. The people, in their sovereign capacity, have established their agencies for the preservation of the public health and the public morals, and the protection of public and private rights,” and these agencies can neither give away nor sell their discretion. All that one can get by a charter permitting the business of conducting a lottery “is suspension of certain governmental rights in his favor, subject to withdrawal at will.”2174

The Court shortly afterward applied the same reasoning in a case challenging the right of Louisiana to invade the exclusive privilege of a corporation engaged in the slaughter of cattle in New Orleans by granting another company the right to engage in the same business. Although the state did not offer to compensate the older company for the lost monopoly, its action was sustained on the ground that it had been taken in the interest of the public health.2175 When, however, the City of New Orleans, in reliance on this precedent, sought to repeal an exclusive franchise which it had granted a company for fifty years to supply gas to its inhabitants, the Court interposed its veto, explaining that in this instance neither the public health, the public morals, nor the public safety was involved.2176

Later decisions, nonetheless, apply the principle of inalienability broadly. To quote from one: “It is settled that neither the ‘contract’ clause nor the ‘due process’ clause has the effect of overriding the power to the State to establish all regulations that are reasonably necessary to secure the health, safety, good order, comfort, or general welfare of the community; that this power can neither be abdicated nor bargained away, and is inalienable even by express grant; and all contract and property rights are held subject to its fair exercise.”2177

It would scarcely suffice today for a company to rely upon its charter privileges or upon special concessions from a state in resisting the application to it of measures alleged to have been enacted under the police power thereof; if this claim is sustained, the obligation of the contract clause will not avail, and if it is not, the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment will furnish a sufficient reliance. That is to say, the discrepancy that once existed between the Court’s theory of an overriding police power in these two adjoining fields of constitutional law is today apparently at an end. Indeed, there is usually no sound reason why rights based on public grant should be regarded as more sacrosanct than rights that involve the same subject matter but are of different provenance.

Private Contracts.

The term “private contract” is, naturally, not all-inclusive. A judgment, though granted in favor of a creditor, is not a contract in the sense of the Constitution,2178 nor is marriage.2179 And whether a particular agreement is a valid contract is a question for the courts, and finally for the Supreme Court, when the protection of the contract clause is invoked.2180

The question of the nature and source of the obligation of a contract, which went by default in Fletcher v. Peck and the Dartmouth College case, with such vastly important consequences, had eventually to be met and answered by the Court in connection with private contracts. The first case involving such a contract to reach the Supreme Court was Sturges v. Crowninshield,2181 in which a debtor sought escape behind a state insolvency act of later date than his note. The act was held inoperative, but whether this was because of its retroactivity in this particular case or for the broader reason that it assumed to excuse debtors from their promises was not at the time made clear. As noted earlier, Chief Justice Marshall’s definition on this occasion of the obligation of a contract as the law that binds the parties to perform their undertakings was not free from ambiguity, owing to the uncertain connotation of the term “law.”2182

These obscurities were finally cleared up for most cases in Ogden v. Saunders,2183 in which the temporal relation of the statute and the contract involved was exactly reversed—the former antedating the latter. Chief Justice Marshall contended unsuccessfully that the statute was void because it purported to release the debtor from that original, intrinsic obligation that always attaches under natural law to the acts of free agents. “When,” he wrote, “we advert to the course of reading generally pursued by American statesmen in early life, we must suppose that the framers of our Constitution were intimately acquainted with the writings of those wise and learned men whose treatises on the laws of nature and nations have guided public opinion on the subjects of obligation and contracts,” and that they took their views on these subjects from those sources. He also posed the question of what would happen to the Contract Clause if states might pass acts declaring that all contracts made subsequently thereto should be subject to legislative control.2184

For the first and only time, a majority of the Court abandoned the Chief Justice’s leadership. Speaking by Justice Washington, it held that the obligation of private contracts is derived from the municipal law—state statutes and judicial decisions—and that the inhibition of Article I, § 10, is confined to legislative acts made after the contracts affected by them, subject to the following exception. By a curiously complicated line of reasoning, the Court also held in the same case that, when the creditor is a nonresident, then a state by an insolvency law may not alter the former’s rights under a contract, albeit one of later date.

With the proposition established that the obligation of a private contract comes from the municipal law in existence when the contract is made, a further question presents itself, namely, what part of the municipal law is referred to? No doubt, the law which determines the validity of the contract itself is a part of such law. Also part of such law is the law which interprets the terms used in the contract, or which supplies certain terms when others are used, as for instance, constitutional provisions or statutes which determine what is “legal tender” for the payment of debts, or judicial decisions which construe the term “for value received” as used in a promissory note, and so on. In short, any law which at the time of the making of a contract goes to measure the rights and duties of the parties to it in relation to each other enters into its obligation.

Remedy a Part of the Private Obligation.

Suppose, how- ever, that one of the parties to a contract fails to live up to his obligation as thus determined. The contract itself may now be regarded as at an end, but the injured party, nevertheless, has a new set of rights in its stead, those which are furnished him by the remedial law, including the law of procedure. In the case of a mortgage, he may foreclose; in the case of a promissory note, he may sue; and in certain cases, he may demand specific performance. Hence the further question arises, whether this remedial law is to be considered a part of the law supplying the obligation of contracts. Originally, the predominating opinion was negative, since as we have just seen, this law does not really come into operation until the contract has been broken. Yet it is obvious that the sanction which this law lends to contracts is extremely important—indeed, indispensable. In due course it became the accepted doctrine that part of the law which supplies one party to a contract with a remedy if the other party does not live up to his agreement, as authoritatively interpreted, entered into the “obligation of contracts” in the constitutional sense of this term, and so might not be altered to the material weakening of existing contracts. In the Court’s own words: “Nothing can be more material to the obligation than the means of enforcement. Without the remedy the contract may, indeed, in the sense of the law, be said not to exist, and its obligation to fall within the class of those moral and social duties which depend for their fulfillment wholly upon the will of the individual. The ideas of validity and remedy are inseparable. . . .”2185

This rule was first definitely announced in 1843 in Bronson v. Kinzie.2186 Here, an Illinois mortgage giving the mortgagee an unrestricted power of sale in case of the mortgagor’s default was involved, along with a later act of the legislature that required mortgaged premises to be sold for not less than two-thirds of the appraised value and allowed the mortgagor a year after the sale to redeem them. It was held that the statute, in altering the pre-existing remedies to such an extent, violated the constitutional prohibition and hence was void. The year following a like ruling was made in McCracken v. Hayward,2187 as to a statutory provision that personal property should not be sold under execution for less than two-thirds of its appraised value.

But the rule illustrated by these cases does not signify that a state may make no changes in its remedial or procedural law that affect existing contracts. “Provided,” the Court has said, “a substantial or efficacious remedy remains or is given, by means of which a party can enforce his rights under the contract, the Legislature may modify or change existing remedies or prescribe new modes of procedure.”2188 Thus, states are constantly remodelling their judicial systems and modes of practice unembarrassed by the Contract Clause.2189 The right of a state to abolish imprisonment for debt was early asserted.2190 Again, the right of a state to shorten the time for the bringing of actions has been affirmed even as to existing causes of action, but with the proviso added that a reasonable time must be left for the bringing of such actions.2191 On the other hand, a statute which withdrew the judicial power to enforce satisfaction of a certain class of judgments by mandamus was held invalid.2192 In the words of the Court: “Every case must be determined upon its own circumstances”;2193 and it later added: “In all such cases the question becomes . . . one of reasonableness, and of that the legislature is primarily the judge.”2194

Contracts involving municipal bonds merit special mention. While a city is from one point of view but an emanation from the government’s sovereignty and an agent thereof, when it borrows money it is held to be acting in a corporate or private capacity and so to be suable on its contracts. Furthermore, as was held in the leading case of United States ex rel. Von Hoffman v. Quincy,2195 “where a State has authorized a municipal corporation to contract and to exercise the power of local taxation to the extent necessary to meet its engagements, the power thus given cannot be withdrawn until the contract is satisfied.” In this case the Court issued a mandamus compelling the city officials to levy taxes for the satisfaction of a judgment on its bonds in accordance with the law as it stood when the bonds were issued.2196 Nor may a state by dividing an indebted municipality among others enable it to escape its obligations. The debt follows the territory and the duty of assessing and collecting taxes to satisfy it devolves upon the succeeding corporations and their officers.2197 But where a municipal organization has ceased practically to exist through the vacation of its offices, and the government’s function is exercised once more by the state directly, the Court has thus far found itself powerless to frustrate a program of repudiation.2198 However, there is no reason why the state should enact the role of particeps criminis in an attempt to relieve its municipalities of the obligation to meet their honest debts. Thus, in 1931, during the Great Depression, New Jersey created a Municipal Finance Commission with power to assume control over its insolvent municipalities. To the complaint of certain bondholders that this legislation impaired the contract obligations of their debtors, the Court, speaking by Justice Frankfurter, pointed out that the practical value of an unsecured claim against a city is “the effectiveness of the city’s taxing power,” which the legislation under review was designed to conserve.2199

Private Contracts and the Police Power.

The increasing sub- jection of public grants to the police power of the states has been previously pointed out. That purely private contracts should be in any stronger situation in this respect obviously would be anomalous in the extreme. In point of fact, the ability of private parties to curtail governmental authority by the easy device of contracting with one another is, with an exception to be noted, even less than that of the state to tie its own hands by contracting away its own powers. So, when it was contended in an early Pennsylvania case that an act prohibiting the issuance of notes by unincorporated banking associations violated the Contract Clause because of its effect upon certain existing contracts of members of such association, the state Supreme Court answered: “But it is said, that the members had formed a contract between themselves, which would be dissolved by the stoppage of their business. And what then? Is that such a violation of contracts as is prohibited by the Constitution of the United States? Consider to what such a construction would lead. Let us suppose, that in one of the States there is no law against gaming, cock-fighting, horse-racing or public masquerades, and that companies should be formed for the purpose of carrying on these practices. . . .” Would the legislature then be powerless to prohibit them? The answer returned, of course, was no.2200

The prevailing doctrine was stated by the U.S. Supreme Court: “It is the settled law of this court that the interdiction of statutes impairing the obligation of contracts does not prevent the State from exercising such powers as are vested in it for the promotion of the common weal, or are necessary for the general good of the public, though contracts previously entered into between individuals may thereby be affected. . . . In other words, that parties by entering into contracts may not estop the legislature from enacting laws intended for the public good.”2201

So, in an early case, we find a state recording act upheld as applying to deeds dated before the passage of the act.2202 Later cases have brought the police power in its more customary phases into contact with private as well as with public contracts. Lottery tickets, valid when issued, were necessarily invalidated by legislation prohibiting the lottery business;2203 contracts for the sale of beer, valid when entered into, were similarly nullified by a state prohibition law;2204 and contracts of employment were modified by later laws regarding the liability of employers and workmen’s compensation.2205 Likewise, a contract between plaintiff and defendant did not prevent the state from making the latter a concession that rendered the contract worthless;2206 nor did a contract as to rates between two railway companies prevent the state from imposing different rates;2207 nor did a contract between a public utility company and a customer protect the rates agreed upon from being superseded by those fixed by the state.2208 Similarly, a contract for the conveyance of water beyond the limits of a state did not prevent the state from prohibiting such conveyance.2209

But the most striking exertions of the police power touching private contracts, as well as other private interests within recent years, have been evoked by war and economic depression. Thus, in World War I, the State of New York enacted a statute which, declaring that a public emergency existed, forbade the enforcement of covenants for the surrender of the possession of premises on the expiration of leases, and wholly deprived for a period owners of dwellings, including apartment and tenement houses, within the City of New York and contiguous counties, of possessory remedies for the eviction from their premises of tenants in possession when the law took effect, providing the latter were able and willing to pay a reasonable rent. In answer to objections leveled against this legislation on the basis of the Contract Clause, the Court said: “But contracts are made subject to this exercise of the power of the State when otherwise justified, as we have held this to be.”2210 In a subsequent case, however, the Court added that, although the declaration by the legislature of a justifying emergency was entitled to great respect, it was not conclusive; a law “depending upon the existence of an emergency or other certain state of facts to uphold it may cease to operate if the emergency ceases or the facts change,” and whether they have changed was always open to judicial inquiry.2211

Summing up the result of the cases referred to above, Chief Justice Hughes, speaking for the Court in Home Building & Loan Ass’n v. Blaisdell,2212 remarked in 1934: “It is manifest from this review of our decisions that there has been a growing appreciation of public needs and of the necessity of finding ground for a rational compromise between individual rights and public welfare. The settlement and consequent contraction of the public domain, the pressure of a constantly increasing density of population, the interrelation of the activities of our people and the complexity of our economic interests, have inevitably led to an increased use of the organization of society in order to protect the very bases of individual opportunity. Where, in earlier days, it was thought that only the concerns of individuals or of classes were involved, and that those of the State itself were touched only remotely, it has later been found that the fundamental interests of the State are directly affected; and that the question is no longer merely that of one party to a contract as against another, but of the use of reasonable means to safeguard the economic structure upon which the good of all depends. . . . The principle of this development is . . . that the reservation of the reasonable exercise of the protective power of the States is read into all contracts . . . .”2213

Evaluation of the Clause Today.

It should not be inferred that the Contract Clause is today totally moribund. Even prior to the most recent decisions, it still furnished the basis for some degree of judicial review as to the substantiality of the factual justification of a professed exercise by a state legislature of its police power, and in the case of legislation affecting the remedial rights of creditors, it still affords a solid and palpable barrier against legislative erosion. Nor is this surprising in view of the fact that, as we have seen, such rights were foremost in the minds of the framers of the clause. The Court’s attitude toward insolvency laws, redemption laws, exemption laws, appraisement laws and the like, has always been that they may not be given retroactive operation,2214 and the general lesson of these earlier cases is confirmed by the Court’s decisions between 1934 and 1945 in certain cases involving state moratorium statutes. In Home Building & Loan Ass’n v. Blaisdell,2215 the leading case, a closely divided Court sustained the Minnesota Moratorium Act of April 18, 1933, which, reciting the existence of a severe financial and economic depression for several years and the frequent occurrence of mortgage foreclosure sales for inadequate prices, and asserting that these conditions had created an economic emergency calling for the exercise of the State’s police power, authorized its courts to extend the period for redemption from foreclosure sales for such additional time as they might deem just and equitable, although in no event beyond May 1, 1935.

The act also left the mortgagor in possession during the period of extension, subject to the requirement that he pay a reasonable rental for the property as fixed by the court. Contemporaneously, however, less carefully drawn statutes from Missouri and Arkansas, acts that were not as considerate of creditor’s rights, were set aside as violating the Contract Clause.2216 “A State is free to regulate the procedure in its courts even with reference to contracts already made,” said Justice Cardozo for the Court, “and moderate extensions of the time for pleading or for trial will ordinarily fall within the power so reserved. A different situation is presented when extensions are so piled up as to make the remedy a shadow. . . . What controls our judgment at such times is the underlying reality rather than the form or label. The changes of remedy now challenged as invalid are to be viewed in combination, with the cumulative significance that each imparts to all. So viewed they are seen to be an oppressive and unnecessary destruction of nearly all the incidents that give attractiveness and value to collateral security.”2217 On the other hand, in the most recent of this category of cases, the Court gave its approval to an extension by the State of New York of its moratorium legislation. While recognizing that business conditions had improved, the Court found reason to believe that “the sudden termination of the legislation which has dammed up normal liquidation of these mortgages for more than eight years might well result in an emergency more acute than that which the original legislation was intended to alleviate.”2218

In the meantime, the Court had sustained New York State legislation under which a mortgagee of real property was denied a deficiency judgment in a foreclosure suit where the state court found that the value of the property purchased by the mortgagee at the foreclosure sale was equal to the debt secured by the mortgage.2219 “Mortgagees,” the Court said, “are constitutionally entitled to no more than payment in full. . . . To hold that mortgagees are entitled under the contract clause to retain the advantages of a forced sale would be to dignify into a constitutionally protected property right their chance to get more than the amount of their contracts. . . . The contract clause does not protect such a strategical, procedural advantage.”2220

More important, the Court has been at pains most recently to reassert the vitality of the clause, although one may wonder whether application of the clause will be more than episodic.

“[T]he Contract Clause remains a part of our written Constitution.”2221 So saying, the Court struck down state legislation in two instances, one law involving the government’s own contractual obligation and the other affecting private contracts.2222 A finding that a contract has been “impaired” in some way is merely the preliminary step in evaluating the validity of the state action.2223 But in both cases the Court applied a stricter-than-usual scrutiny to the statutory action, in the public contracts case precisely because it was its own obligation that the State was attempting to avoid and in the private contract case, apparently, because the legislation was in aid of a “narrow class.”2224

The approach in any event is one of balancing. “The severity of the impairment measures the height of the hurdle the state legislation must clear. Minimal alteration of contractual obligations may end the inquiry at its first stage. Severe impairment, on the other hand, will push the inquiry to a careful examination of the nature and purpose of the state legislation.”2225 Having determined that a severe impairment had resulted in both cases,2226 the Court moved on to assess the justification for the state action.

In United States Trust, the Court ruled that an impairment would be upheld only if it were “necessary” and “reasonable” to serve an important public purpose. But the two terms were given restrictive meanings. Necessity is shown only when the state’s objectives could not have been achieved through less dramatic modifications of the contract; reasonableness is a function of the extent to which alteration of the contract was prompted by circumstances unforeseen at the time of its formation. The repeal of the covenant in issue was found to fail both prongs of the test.2227

In Spannaus, the Court drew from its prior cases four standards: did the law deal with a broad generalized economic or social problem, did it operate in an area already subject to state regulation at the time the contractual obligations were entered into, did it effect simply a temporary alteration of the contractual relationship, and did the law operate upon a broad class of affected individuals or concerns. The Court found that the challenged law did not possess any of these attributes and thus struck it down.2228

Whether these two cases portend an active judicial review of economic regulatory activities, in contrast to the extreme deference shown such legislation under the due process and equal protection clauses, is problematical. Both cases contain language emphasizing the breadth of the police powers of government that may be used to further the public interest and admitting limited judicial scrutiny. Nevertheless, “[i]f the Contract Clause is to retain any meaning at all . . . it must be understood to impose some limits upon the power of a State to abridge existing contractual relationships, even in the exercise of its otherwise legitimate police power.”2229


Williams v. Bruffy, 96 U.S. 176, 183 (1878). back
39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 540 (1840). back
United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19 (1947). back
313 U.S. 69 (1941). back
313 U.S. at 78–79. back
Craig v. Missouri, 29 U.S. (4 Pet.) 410, 425 (1830); Byrne v. Missouri, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 40 (1834). back
Virginia Coupon Cases (Poindexter v. Greenhow), 114 U.S. 270 (1885); Chaffin v. Taylor, 116 U.S. 567 (1886). back
Houston & Texas Central R.R. v. Texas, 177 U.S. 66 (1900). back
Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky, 36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 257 (1837). back
Darrington v. Bank of Alabama, 54 U.S. (13 How.) 12, 15 (1851); Curran v. Arkansas, 56 U.S. (15 How.) 304, 317 (1854). back
Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky, 36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 257 (1837). back
Woodruff v. Trapnall, 51 U.S. (10 How.) 190, 205 (1851). back
Juilliard v. Greenman, 110 U.S. 421, 446 (1884). back
Gwin v. Breedlove, 43 U.S. (2 How.) 29, 38 (1844). See also Griffin v. Thompson, 43 U.S. (2 How.) 244 (1844). back
Farmers & Merchants Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank, 262 U.S. 649, 659 (1923). back
Cummings v. Missouri, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 277, 323 (1867); Klinger v. Missouri, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 257 (1872); Pierce v. Carskadon, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 234, 239 (1873). back
Garner v. Board of Pub. Works, 341 U.S. 716, 722–723 (1951). Cf. Konigsberg v. State Bar of California, 366 U.S. 36, 47 n.9 (1961). back
De Veau v. Braisted, 363 U.S. 144, 160 (1960). Presumably, United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437 (1965), does not qualify this decision. back
Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 390 (1798); Watson v. Mercer, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 88, 110 (1834); Baltimore and Susquehanna R.R. v. Nesbit, 51 U.S. (10 How.) 395, 401 (1850); Carpenter v. Pennsylvania, 58 U.S. (17 How.) 456, 463 (1855); Loche v. New Orleans, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 172 (1867); Orr v. Gilman, 183 U.S. 278, 285 (1902); Kentucky Union Co. v. Kentucky, 219 U.S. 140 (1911). In Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, 524 U.S. 498, 538 (1998) (concurring), Justice Thomas indicated a willingness to reconsider Calder to determine whether the clause should apply to civil legislation. back
538 U.S. 84 (2003). back
538 U.S. at 92. back
The law’s requirements do not closely resemble punishments of public disgrace imposed in colonial times; the stigma of Megan’s Law results not from public shaming but from the dissemination of information about a criminal record, most of which is already public. 538 U.S. at 98. back
538 U.S. at 102. back
Excessiveness was alleged to stem both from the law’s duration (15 years of notification by those convicted of less serious offenses; lifetime registration by serious offenders) and in terms of the widespread (Internet) distribution of the information. back
538 U.S. at 105. Unlike involuntary civil commitment, where “the magnitude of restraint [makes] individual assessment appropriate,” the state may make “reasonable categorical judgments,” and need not provide individualized determinations of dangerousness. Id. at 103. back
Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37, 42 (1990) (quoting Beazell v. Ohio, 269 U.S. 167, 169–70 (1925)). Alternatively, the Court described the reach of the clause as extending to laws that “alter the definition of crimes or increase the punishment for criminal acts.” Id. at 43. Justice Chase’s oft-cited formulation has a fourth category: “every law that aggravates a crime, or makes it greater than it was, when committed.” Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 390 (1798), cited in, e.g., Carmell v. Texas, 529 U.S. 513, 522 (2000). back
Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 344 (1915); Ross v. Oregon, 227 U.S. 150, 161 (1913). However, an unforeseeable judicial enlargement of a criminal statute so as to encompass conduct not covered on the face of the statute operates like an ex post facto law if it is applied retroactively and violates due process in that event. Bouie v. City of Columbia, 378 U.S. 347 (1964). See Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188 (1977) (applying Bouie in context of § 9, cl. 3). But see Splawn v. California, 431 U.S. 595 (1977) (rejecting application of Bouie). The Court itself has not always adhered to this standard. See Ginzburg v. United States, 383 U.S. 463 (1966). back
Jaehne v. New York, 128 U.S. 189, 194 (1888). back
Rooney v. North Dakota, 196 U.S. 319, 325 (1905). back
Chicago & Alton R.R. v. Tranbarger, 238 U.S. 67 (1915). back
Samuels v. McCurdy, 267 U.S. 188 (1925). back
Hawker v. New York, 170 U.S. 189, 190 (1898). See also Reetz v. Michigan, 188 U.S. 505, 509 (1903); Lehmann v. State Board of Public Accountancy, 263 U.S. 394 (1923). back
DeVeau v. Braisted, 363 U.S. 144, 160 (1960). back
Cummings v. Missouri, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 277, 316 (1867). back
Pierce v. Carskadon, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 234, 237–39 (1873). back
3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 389 (1798). back
539 U.S. 607, 632–33 (2003) (invalidating application of California’s law to revive child abuse charges 22 years after the limitations period had run for the alleged crimes). back
Lindsey v. Washington, 301 U.S. 397 (1937). But note the limitation of Lindsey in Dobbert v. Florida, 432 U.S. 282, 298–301 (1977). back
Holden v. Minnesota, 137 U.S. 483, 491 (1890). back
Medley, Petitioner, 134 U.S. 160, 171 (1890). back
Miller v. Florida, 482 U.S. 423 (1987). But see California Dep’t of Corrections v. Morales, 514 U.S. 499 (1995) (a law amending parole procedures to decrease frequency of parole-suitability hearings is not ex post facto as applied to prisoners who committed offenses before enactment). The opinion modifies previous opinions that had held some laws impermissible because they operated to the disadvantage of covered offenders. Henceforth, “the focus of ex post facto inquiry is . . . whether any such change alters the definition of criminal conduct or increases the penalty by which a crime is punishable.” Id. at 506 n.3. Accord, Garner v. Jones, 529 U.S. 244 (2000) (evidence insufficient to determine whether change in frequency of parole hearings significantly increases the likelihood of prolonging incarceration). But see Lynce v. Mathis, 519 U.S. 433 (1997) (cancellation of release credits already earned and used, resulting in reincarceration, violates the Clause). back
Peugh v. United States, 569 U.S. ___, No. 12–62, slip op. (2013). back
Gryger v. Burke, 334 U.S. 728 (1948); McDonald v. Massachusetts, 180 U.S. 311 (1901); Graham v. West Virginia, 224 U.S. 616 (1912). back
Malloy v. South Carolina, 237 U.S. 180, 183 (1915). back
Rooney v. North Dakota, 196 U.S. 319, 324 (1905). back
432 U.S. 282, 297–98 (1977). back
Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972). The new law was sustained in Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976). back
432 U.S. at 297. back
Gibson v. Mississippi, 162 U.S. 565, 590 (1896). back
Gut v. Minnesota, 76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 35, 37 (1870). back
Duncan v. Missouri, 152 U.S. 377 (1894). back
Mallett v. North Carolina, 181 U.S. 589, 593 (1901). back
Gibson v. Mississippi, 162 U.S. 565, 588 (1896). back
Beazell v. Ohio, 269 U.S. 167 (1925). back
Thompson v. Missouri, 171 U.S. 380, 381 (1898). back
E.g., Duncan v. Missouri, 152 U.S. 377, 382 (1894); Malloy v. South Carolina, 237 U.S. 180, 183 (1915); Beazell v. Ohio, 269 U.S. 167, 171 (1925). The two cases decided on the basis of the distinction were Thompson v. Utah, 170 U.S. 343 (1898) (application to felony trial for offense committed before enactment of change from twelve-person jury to an eight-person jury void under clause), and Kring v. Missouri, 107 U.S. 221 (1883) (as applied to a case arising before change, a law abolishing a rule under which a guilty plea functioned as a acquittal of a more serious offense, so that defendant could be tried on the more serious charge, a violation of the clause). back
Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37, 44–52 (1990). In so doing, the Court overruled Kring and Thompson v. Utah. back
497 U.S. at 44, 52. Youngblood upheld a Texas statute, as applied to a person committing an offense and tried before passage of the law, that authorized criminal courts to reform an improper verdict assessing a punishment not authorized by law, which had the effect of denying defendant a new trial to which he would have been previously entitled. back
Carmell v. Texas, 529 U.S. 513 (2000). back
Dodge v. Woolsey, 59 U.S. (18 How.) 331 (1856); Ohio & M. R.R. v. McClure, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 511 (1871); New Orleans Gas Co. v. Louisiana Light Co., 115 U.S. 650 (1885); Bier v. McGehee, 148 U.S. 137, 140 (1893). back
New Orleans Water-Works Co. v. Rivers, 115 U.S. 674 (1885); City of Walla Walla v. Walla Walla Water Co., 172 U.S. 1 (1898); City of Vicksburg v. Waterworks Co., 202 U.S. 453 (1906); Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Goldsboro, 232 U.S. 548 (1914); Cuyahoga Power Co. v. City of Akron, 240 U.S. 462 (1916). back
Id. See also Grand Trunk Ry. v. Indiana R.R. Comm’n, 221 U.S. 400 (1911); Appleby v. Delaney, 271 U.S. 403 (1926). back
Central Land Co. v. Laidley, 159 U.S. 103 (1895). See also New Orleans Water-Works Co. v. Louisiana Sugar Co., 125 U.S. 18 (1888); Hanford v. Davies, 163 U.S. 273 (1896); Ross v. Oregon, 227 U.S. 150 (1913); Detroit United Ry. v. Michigan, 242 U.S. 238 (1916); Long Sault Development Co. v. Call, 242 U.S. 272 (1916); McCoy v. Union Elevated R. Co., 247 U.S. 354 (1918); Columbia Ry., Gas & Electric Co. v. South Carolina, 261 U.S. 236 (1923); Tidal Oil Co. v. Flannagan, 263 U.S. 444 (1924). back
Jefferson Branch Bank v. Skelly, 66 U.S. (1 Bl.) 436, 443 (1862); Bridge Proprietors v. Hoboken Co., 68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 116, 145 (1863); Wright v. Nagle, 101 U.S. 791, 793 (1880); McGahey v. Virginia, 135 U.S. 662, 667 (1890); Scott v. McNeal, 154 U.S. 34, 35 (1894); Stearns v. Minnesota, 179 U.S. 223, 232–33 (1900); Coombes v. Getz, 285 U.S. 434, 441 (1932); Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Phillips, 332 U.S. 168, 170 (1947). back
McCullough v. Virginia, 172 U.S. 102 (1898); Houston & Texas Central Rd. Co. v. Texas, 177 U.S. 66, 76, 77 (1900); Hubert v. New Orleans, 215 U.S. 170, 175 (1909); Carondelet Canal Co. v. Louisiana, 233 U.S. 362, 376 (1914); Louisiana Ry. & Nav. Co. v. New Orleans, 235 U.S. 164, 171 (1914). back
State Bank of Ohio v. Knoop, 57 U.S. (16 How.) 369 (1854) (discussed below), and Ohio Life Ins. and Trust Co. v. Debolt, 57 U.S. (16 How.) 416 (1854), are the leading cases. See also Jefferson Branch Bank v. Skelly, 66 U.S. (1 Bl.) 436 (1862); Louisiana v. Pilsbury, 105 U.S. 278 (1882); McGahey v. Virginia, 135 U.S. 662 (1890); Mobile & Ohio R.R. v. Tennessee, 153 U.S. 486 (1894); Bacon v. Texas, 163 U.S. 207 (1896); McCullough v. Virginia, 172 U.S. 102 (1898). back
Gelpcke v. City of Debuque, 68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 175, 206 (1865); Havemayer v. Iowa County, 70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 294 (1866); Thomson v. Lee County, 70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 327 (1866); The City v. Lamson, 76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 477 (1870); Olcott v. The Supervisors, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 678 (1873); Taylor v. Ypsilanti, 105 U.S. 60 (1882); Anderson v. Santa Anna, 116 U.S. 356 (1886); Wilkes County v. Coler, 180 U.S. 506 (1901). back
Great Southern Hotel Co. v. Jones, 193 U.S. 532, 548 (1904). back
Sauer v. New York, 206 U.S. 536 (1907); Muhlker v. New York & Harlem R.R., 197 U.S. 544, 570 (1905). back
42 Stat. 366. back
Tidal Oil Co. v. Flannagan, 263 U.S. 444, 452 (1924). back
304 U.S. 64 (1938). back
Walker v. Whitehead, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 314, 317 (1873); Wood v. Lovett, 313 U.S. 362, 370 (1941). back
17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 122, 197 (1819); see also Curran v. Arkansas, 56 U.S. (15 How.) 304 (1854). back
17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518, 627 (1819). back
290 U.S. 398 (1934). back
290 U.S. at 431. back
290 U.S. at 435. See also City of El Paso v. Simmons, 379 U.S. 497 (1965). back
“The Blaisdell decision represented a realistic appreciation of the fact that ours is an evolving society and that the general words of the contract clause were not intended to reduce the legislative branch of government to helpless impotency.” Justice Black, in Wood v. Lovett, 313 U.S. 362, 383 (1941). back
Crane v. Hahlo, 258 U.S. 142, 145–46 (1922); Louisiana ex rel. Folsom v. Mayor of New Orleans, 109 U.S. 285, 288 (1883); Morley v. Lake Shore Ry., 146 U.S. 162, 169 (1892). That the Contract Clause did not protect vested rights merely as such was stated by the Court as early as Satterlee v. Matthewson, 27 U.S. (2 Pet.) 380, 413 (1829); and again in Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, 36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 420, 539–40 (1837). back
Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518, 629 (1819). back
In Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1877), a category of “business affected with a public interest” and whose property is “impressed with a public use” was recognized. A corporation engaged in such a business becomes a “quasi-public” corporation, and the power of the state to regulate it is larger than in the case of a purely private corporation. Because most corporations receiving public franchises are of this character, the final result of Munn was to enlarge the police power of the state in the case of the most important beneficiaries of the Dartmouth College decision. back
Meriwether v. Garrett, 102 U.S. 472 (1880); Covington v. Kentucky, 173 U.S. 231 (1899); Hunter v. Pittsburgh, 207 U.S. 161 (1907). back
East Hartford v. Hartford Bridge Co., 51 U.S. (10 How.) 511 (1851); Hunter v. Pittsburgh, 207 U.S. 161 (1907). back
City of Trenton v. New Jersey, 262 U.S. 182, 191 (1923). back
Newton v. Commissioners, 100 U.S. 548 (1880). back
Michigan ex rel. Kies v. Lowrey, 199 U.S. 233 (1905). back
Faitoute Co. v. City of Asbury Park, 316 U.S. 502 (1942). back
Butler v. Pennsylvania, 51 U.S. (10 How.) 402 (1850); Fisk v. Jefferson Police Jury, 116 U.S. 131 (1885); Dodge v. Board of Education, 302 U.S. 74 (1937); Mississippi ex rel. Robertson v. Miller, 276 U.S. 174 (1928). back
Butler v. Pennsylvania, 51 U.S. (10 How.) 420 (1850). Cf. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cr.) 137 (1803) Hoke v. Henderson, 154 N.C. (4 Dev.) 1 (1833). See also United States v. Fisher, 109 U.S. 143 (1883); United States v. Mitchell, 109 U.S. 146 (1883); Crenshaw v. United States, 134 U.S. 99 (1890). back
Fisk v. Jefferson Police Jury, 116 U.S. 131 (1885); Mississippi ex rel. Robertson v. Miller, 276 U.S. 174 (1928). back
Hall v. Wisconsin, 103 U.S. 5 (1880). Cf. Higginbotham v. City of Baton Rouge, 306 U.S. 535 (1930). back
Phelps v. Board of Education, 300 U.S. 319 (1937). back
Dodge v. Board of Education, 302 U.S. 74 (1937). back
Indiana ex rel. Anderson v. Brand, 303 U.S. 95 (1938). back
11 U.S. (7 Cr.) 164 (1812). back
The Delaware Railroad Tax, 85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 206, 225 (1874); Pacific R.R. v. Maguire, 87 U.S. (20 Wall.) 36, 43 (1874); Humphrey v. Pegues, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 244, 249 (1873); Home of the Friendless v. Rouse, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 430, 438 (1869). back
57 U.S. (16 How.) 369 (1854). back
57 U.S. at 383. back
Salt Company v. East Saginaw, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 373, 379 (1872). See also Welch v. Cook, 97 U.S. 541 (1879); Grand Lodge v. New Orleans, 166 U.S. 143 (1897); Wisconsin & Michigan Ry. v. Powers, 191 U.S. 379 (1903). Cf. Ettor v. Tacoma, 228 U.S. 148 (1913), in which it was held that the repeal of a statute providing for consequential damages caused by changes of grades of streets could not constitutionally affect an already accrued right to compensation. back
See Rector of Christ Church v. County of Philadelphia, 65 U.S. (24 How.) 300, 302 (1861); Seton Hall College v. South Orange, 242 U.S. 100 (1916). back
Compare the above cases with Home of the Friendless v. Rouse, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 430, 437 (1869); Illinois Cent, R.R. v. Decatur, 147 U.S. 190 (1893), with Wisconsin & Michigan Ry. Co. v. Powers, 191 U.S. 379 (1903). back
According to Benjamin F. Wright, throughout the first century of government under the Constitution “the contract clause had been considered in almost forty per cent of all cases involving the validity of State legislation,” and of these the vast proportion involved legislative grants of one type or other, the most important category being charters of incorporation. However, the numerical prominence of such grants in the cases does not overrate their relative importance from the point of view of public interest. B. WRIGHT, THE CONTRACT CLAUSE OF THE CONSTITUTION 95 (1938). Madison explained the clause by allusion to what had occurred “in the internal administration of the States” in the years preceding the Constitutional Convention, in regard to private debts. Violations of contracts had become familiar in the form of depreciated paper made legal tender, of property substituted for money, of installment laws, and of the occlusions of the courts of justice. 3 M. FARRAND, THE RECORDS OF THE FEDERAL CONVENTION OF 1787 548 (rev. ed. 1937); THE FEDERALIST, No. 44 (J. Cooke ed. 1961), 301–302. back
2 THE WORKS OF JAMES WILSON 834 (R. McCloskey ed., 1967). back
2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419 (1793). back
17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 122, 197 (1819). back
Ogden v. Saunders, 25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 213, 338 (1827). back
10 U.S. (6 Cr.) 87 (1810). back
B. WRIGHT, THE CONTRACT CLAUSE OF THE CONSTITUTION 22 (1938). Professor Wright dates Hamilton’s pamphlet as from 1796. back
10 U.S. (6 Cr.) 87, 139 (1810). Justice Johnson, in his concurring opinion, relied exclusively on general principles. “I do not hesitate to declare, that a State does not possess the power of revoking its own grants. But I do it, on a general principle, on the reason and nature of things; a principle which will impose laws even on the Deity.” Id. at 143. back
11 U.S. (7 Cr.) 164 (1812). The exemption from taxation which was involved in this case was held in 1886 to have lapsed through the acquiescence for sixty years by the owners of the lands in the imposition of taxes upon these. Given v. Wright, 117 U.S. 648 (1886). back
Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518 (1819). back
379 U.S. 497 (1965). See also Thorpe v. Housing Authority, 393 U.S. 268, 278–79 (1969). back
In 1806, Chief Justice Parsons of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, without mentioning the Contract Clause, declared that rights legally vested in a corporation cannot be “controlled of destroyed by a subsequent statute, unless a power [for that purpose] be reserved to the legislature in the act of incorporation,” Wales v. Stetson, 2 Mass. 142 (1806). See also Stoughton v. Baker, 4 Mass. 521 (1808) to like effect; cf. Locke v. Dane, 9 Mass. 360 (1812), in which it is said that the purpose of the Contract Clause was to provide against paper money and insolvent laws. Together these holdings add up to the conclusion that the reliance of the Massachusetts court was on “fundamental principles,” rather than the Contract Clause. back
17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) at 577–95 (Webster’s argument); id. at 666 (Story’s opinion). See also Story’s opinion for the Court in Terrett v. Taylor, 13 U.S. (9 Cr.) 43 (1815). back
17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518 (1819). back
17 U.S. at 627. back
17 U.S. at 637; see also Home of the Friendless v. Rouse, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 430, 437 (1869). back
29 U.S. (4 Pet.) 514 (1830). back
36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 420 (1837). back
Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518, 712 (1819) (Justice Story). back
Home of the Friendless v. Rouse, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 430, 438 (1869); Pennsylvania College Cases, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 190, 213 (1872); Miller v. New York, 82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 478 (1873); Murray v. Charleston, 96 U.S. 432 (1878); Greenwood v. Freight Co., 105 U.S. 13 (1882); Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. v. Miller, 114 U.S. 176 (1885); Louisville Water Company v. Clark, 143 U.S. 1 (1892). back
New Jersey v. Yard, 95 U.S. 104, 111 (1877). back
See Holyoke Company v. Lyman, 82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 500, 520 (1873), See also Shields v. Ohio, 95 U.S. 319 (1877); Fair Haven R.R. v. New Haven, 203 U.S. 379 (1906); Berea College v. Kentucky, 211 U.S. 45 (1908). Also Lothrop v. Stedman, 15 Fed. Cas. 922 (No. 8519) (C.C.D. Conn. 1875), where the principles of natural justice are thought to set a limit to the power. back
See in this connection the cases cited by Justice Sutherland in his opinion for the Court in Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Jenkins, 297 U.S. 629 (1936). back
Curran v. Arkansas, 56 U.S. (15 How.) 304 (1853); Shields v. Ohio, 95 U.S. 319 (1877); Greenwood v. Freight Co., 105 U.S. 13 (1882); Adirondack Ry. v. New York, 176 U.S. 335 (1900); Stearns v. Minnesota, 179 U.S. 223 (1900); Chicago, M. & St. P. R.R. v. Wisconsin, 238 U.S. 491 (1915); Coombes v. Getz, 285 U.S. 434 (1932). back
Pennsylvania College Cases, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 190, 218 (1872). See also Calder v. Michigan, 218 U.S. 591 (1910). back
Lake Shore & Mich. So. Ry. v. Smith, 173 U.S. 684, 690 (1899); Coombes v. Getz, 285 U.S. 434 (1932). Both these decisions cite Greenwood v. Freight Co., 105 U.S. 13, 17 (1882), but without apparent justification. back
29 U.S. (4 Pet.) 514 (1830). back
Thorpe v. Rutland & Burlington R.R., 27 Vt. 140 (1854). back
Thus a railroad may be required, at its own expense and irrespective of benefits to itself, to eliminate grade crossings in the interest of the public safety, New York & N.E. R.R. v. Bristol, 151 U.S. 556 (1894), to make highway crossings reasonably safe and convenient for public use, Great Northern Ry. v. Minnesota ex rel. Clara City, 246 U.S. 434 (1918), to repair viaducts, Northern Pacific Railway v. Duluth, 208 U.S. 583 (1908), and to fence its right of way, Minneapolis & St. Louis Ry. v. Emmons, 149 U.S. 364 (1893). Though a railroad company owns the right of way along a street, the city may require it to lay tracks to conform to the established grade; to fill in tracks at street intersections; and to remove tracks from a busy street intersection, when the attendant disadvantage and expense are small and the safety of the public appreciably enhanced Denver & R.G. R.R. v. Denver, 250 U.S. 241 (1919). Likewise the state, in the public interest, may require a railroad to reestablish an abandoned station, even though the railroad commission had previously authorized its abandonment on condition that another station be established elsewhere, a condition which had been complied with. Railroad Co. v. Hamersley, 104 U.S. 1 (1881). It may impose upon a railroad liability for fire communicated by its locomotives, even though the state had previously authorized the company to use said type of locomotive power, St. Louis & S.F. Ry. v. Mathews, 165 U.S. 1, 5 (1897), and it may penalize the failure to cut drains through embankments so as to prevent flooding of adjacent lands. Chicago & Alton R.R. v. Tranbarger, 238 U.S. 67 (1915). back
Beer Co. v. Massachusetts, 97 U.S. 25 (1878). See also Fertilizing Co. v. Hyde Park, 97 U.S. 659 (1878); Hammond Packing Co. v. Arkansas, 212 U.S. 322, 345 (1909). back
36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 420 (1837). back
36 U.S. at 548–53. back
201 U.S. 400 (1906). back
201 U.S. at 471, 472, quoting The Binghamton Bridge, 70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 51, 75 (1866). back
Memphis & L.R. R.R. v. Comm’rs, 112 U.S. 609, 617 (1884). See also Morgan v. Louisiana, 93 U.S. 217 (1876); Wilson v. Gaines, 103 U.S. 417 (1881); Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Palmes, 109 U.S. 244, 251 (1883); Norfolk & Western R.R. v. Pendleton, 156 U.S. 667, 673 (1895); Picard v. East Tennessee, V. & G. R.R., 130 U.S. 637, 641 (1889). back
Atlantic & Gulf R.R. v. Georgia, 98 U.S. 359, 365 (1879). back
Phoenix F. & M. Ins. Co. v. Tennessee, 161 U.S. 174 (1896). back
Rochester Ry. v. Rochester, 205 U.S. 236 (1907); followed in Wright v. Georgia R.R. & Banking Co., 216 U.S. 420 (1910); Rapid Transit Corp. v. New York, 303 U.S. 573 (1938). Cf. Tennessee v. Whitworth, 117 U.S. 139 (1886), the authority of which is respected in the preceding case. back
Chicago, B. & K.C. R.R. v. Guffey, 120 U.S. 569 (1887). back
Ford v. Delta and Pine Land Company, 164 U.S. 662 (1897). back
Vicksburg, S. & P. R.R. v. Dennis, 116 U.S. 665 (1886). back
Millsaps College v. City of Jackson, 275 U.S. 129 (1927). back
Hale v. State Board, 302 U.S. 95 (1937). back
Railroad Comm’n Cases (Stone v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.), 116 U.S. 307, 330 (1886), extended in Southern Pacific Co. v. Campbell, 230 U.S. 537 (1913) to cases in which the word “reasonable” does not appear to qualify the company’s right to prescribe tolls. See also American Bridge Co. v. Railroad Comm’n, 307 U.S. 486 (1939). back
Georgia Ry. v. Town of Decatur, 262 U.S. 432 (1923). See also Southern Iowa Elec. Co. v. City of Chariton, 255 U.S. 539 (1921). back
City of Walla Walla v. Walla Walla Water Co., 172 U.S. 1, 15 (1898). back
Skaneateles Water Co. v. Skaneateles, 184 U.S. 354 (1902); Water Co. v. City of Knoxville, 200 U.S. 22 (1906); Madera Water Works v. City of Madera, 228 U.S. 454 (1913). back
Rogers Park Water Co. v. Fergus, 180 U.S. 624 (1901). back
Home Tel. & Tel. Co. v. City of Los Angeles, 211 U.S. 265 (1908); Wyandotte Gas Co. v. Kansas, 231 U.S. 622 (1914). back
See also Puget Sound Traction Co. v. Reynolds, 244 U.S. 574 (1917). “Before we can find impairment of a contract we must find an obligation of the contract which has been impaired. Since the contract here relied upon is one between a political subdivision of a state and private individuals, settled principles of construction require that the obligation alleged to have been impaired be clearly and unequivocally expressed.” Justice Black for the Court in Keefe v. Clark, 322 U.S. 393, 396–397 (1944). back
Brick Presbyterian Church v. New York, 5 Cow. (N.Y.) 538, 540 (1826). back
West River Bridge Co. v. Dix, 47 U.S. (6 How.) 507 (1848). See also Backus v. Lebanon, 11 N.H. 19 (1840); White River Turnpike Co. v. Vermont Cent. R. Co., 21 Vt. 590 (1849); and Bonaparte v. Camden & A.R. Co., 3 Fed. Cas. 821 (No. 1617) (C.C.D.N.J. 1830). back
Pennsylvania Hospital v. City of Philadelphia, 245 U.S. 20 (1917). back
Illinois Cent. R.R. v. Illinois, 146 U.S. 387, 453, 455 (1892). back
See especially Home of the Friendless v. Rouse, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 430 (1869), and The Washington University v. Rouse, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 439 (1869). back
Georgia R.R. & Banking Co. v. Redwine, 342 U.S. 299, 305–06 (1952). The Court distinguished In re Ayers, 123 U.S. 443 (1887) on the ground that the action there was barred “as one in substance directed at the State merely to obtain specific performance of a contract with the State.” 342 U.S. at 305. back
101 U.S. 814 (1880). back
101 U.S. at 820–21. back
Butchers’ Union Slaughter-House and Live-Stock Landing Co. v. Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Co., 111 U.S. 746 (1884). back
New Orleans Gas Co. v. Louisiana Light Co., 115 U.S. 650 (1885). back
Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. City of Goldsboro, 232 U.S. 548, 558 (1914). See also Chicago & Alton R.R. v. Tranbarger, 238 U.S. 67 (1915); Pennsylvania Hospital v. Philadelphia, 245 U.S. 20 (1917); where the police power and eminent domain are treated on the same basis in respect of inalienability; Wabash R.R. v. Defiance, 167 U.S. 88, 97 (1897); Home Tel. & Tel. Co. v. City of Los Angeles, 211 U.S. 265 (1908). back
Morley v. Lake Shore Ry., 146 U.S. 162 (1892); New Orleans v. New Orleans Water-Works Co., 142 U.S. 79 (1891); Missouri & Ark. L. & M. Co. v. Sebastian County, 249 U.S. 170 (1919). But cf. Livingston’s Lessee v. Moore, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 469, 549 (1833); and Garrison v. New York, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 196, 203 (1875), suggesting that a different view was earlier entertained in the case of judgments in actions of debt. back
Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888); Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518, 629 (1819). Cf. Andrews v. Andrews, 188 U.S. 14 (1903). The question whether a wife’s rights in the community property under the laws of California were of a contractual nature was raised but not determined in Moffit v. Kelly, 218 U.S. 400 (1910). back
New Orleans v. New Orleans Water-Works Co., 142 U.S. 79 (1891); Zane v. Hamilton County, 189 U.S. 370, 381 (1903). back
17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 122 (1819). back
17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) at 197. back
25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 213 (1827). back
25 U.S. at 353–54. back
United States ex rel. Von Hoffman v. Quincy, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 535, 552 (1867). back
42 U.S. (1 How.) 311 (1843). back
43 U.S. (2 How.) 608 (1844). back
Oshkosh Waterworks Co. v. Oshkosh, 187 U.S. 437, 439 (1903); City & Lake R.R. v. New Orleans, 157 U.S. 219 (1895). back
Antoni v. Greenhow, 107 U.S. 769 (1883). back
The right was upheld in Mason v. Haile, 25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 370 (1827), and again in Penniman’s Case, 103 U.S. 714 (1881). back
McGahey v. Virginia, 135 U.S. 662 (1890). back
Louisiana v. New Orleans, 102 U.S. 203 (1880). back
United States ex rel. Von Hoffman v. Quincy, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 535, 554 (1867). back
Antoni v. Greenhow, 107 U.S. 769, 775 (1883). Illustrations of changes in remedies, which have been sustained, may be seen in the following cases: Jackson v. Lamphire, 28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 280 (1830); Hawkins v. Barney’s Lessee, 30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 457 (1831); Crawford v. Branch Bank of Mobile, 48 U.S. (7 How.) 279 (1849); Curtis v. Whitney, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 68 (1872); Railroad Co. v. Hecht, 95 U.S. 168 (1877); Terry v. Anderson, 95 U.S. 628 (1877); Tennessee v. Sneed, 96 U.S. 69 (1877); South Carolina v. Gaillard, 101 U.S. 433 (1880); Louisiana v. New Orleans, 102 U.S. 203 (1880); Connecticut Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Cushman, 108 U.S. 51 (1883); Vance v. Vance, 108 U.S. 514 (1883); Gilfillan v. Union Canal Co., 109 U.S. 401 (1883); Hill v. Merchant’s Ins. Co., 134 U.S. 515 (1890); City & Lake R.R. v. New Orleans, 157 U.S. 219 (1895); Red River Valley Bank v. Craig, 181 U.S. 548 (1901); Wilson v. Standefer, 184 U.S. 399 (1902); Oshkosh Waterworks Co. v. Oshkosh, 187 U.S. 437 (1903); Waggoner v. Flack, 188 U.S. 595 (1903); Bernheimer v. Converse, 206 U.S. 516 (1907); Henley v. Myers, 215 U.S. 373 (1910); Selig v. Hamilton, 234 U.S. 652 (1914); Security Bank v. California, 263 U.S. 282 (1923); United States Mortgage Co. v. Matthews, 293 U.S. 232 (1934); McGee v. International Life Ins. Co., 355 U.S. 220 (1957). Compare the following cases, where changes in remedies were deemed to be of such character as to interfere with substantial rights: Wilmington & Weldon R.R. v. King, 91 U.S. 3 (1875); Memphis v. United States, 97 U.S. 293 (1878); Virginia Coupon Cases (Poindexter v. Greenhow), 114 U.S. 270, 298, 299 (1885); Effinger v. Kenney, 115 U.S. 566 (1885); Fisk v. Jefferson Police Jury, 116 U.S. 131 (1885); Bradley v. Lightcap, 195 U.S. 1 (1904); Bank of Minden v. Clement, 256 U.S. 126 (1921). back
71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 535, 554–55 (1867). back
See also Nelson v. St. Martin’s Parish, 111 U.S. 716 (1884). back
Mobile v. Watson, 116 U.S. 289 (1886); Graham v. Folsom, 200 U.S. 248 (1906). back
Heine v. Levee Commissioners, 86 U.S. (19 Wall.) 655 (1874). Cf. Virginia v. West Virginia, 246 U.S. 565 (1918). back
Faitoute Co. v. City of Asbury Park, 316 U.S. 502, 510 (1942). Alluding to the ineffectiveness of purely judicial remedies against defaulting municipalities, Justice Frankfurter says: “For there is no remedy when resort is had to ‘devices and contrivances’ to nullify the taxing power which can be carried out only through authorized officials. See Rees v. City of Watertown, 19 Wall. [86 U.S.] 107, 124 [1874]. And so we have had the spectacle of taxing officials resigning from office in order to frustrate tax levies through mandamus, and officials running on a platform of willingness to go to jail rather than to enforce a tax levy (see Raymond, State and Municipal Bonds, 342–343), and evasion of service by tax collectors, thus making impotent a court’s mandate. Yost v. Dallas County, 236 U.S. 50, 57 [1915].” Id. at 511. back
Myers v. Irwin, 2 S. & R. (Pa.) 367, 372 (1816); see, to the same effect, Lindenmuller v. The People, 33 Barb. (N.Y.) 548 (1861); Brown v. Penobscot Bank, 8 Mass. 445 (1812). back
Manigault v. Springs, 199 U.S. 473, 480 (1905). back
Jackson v. Lamphire, 28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 280 (1830). See also Phalen v. Virginia, 49 U.S. (8 How.) 163 (1850). back
Stone v. Mississippi, 101 U.S. 814 (1880). back
Beer Co. v. Massachusetts, 97 U.S. 25 (1878). back
New York Cent. R.R. v. White, 243 U.S. 188 (1917). In this and the preceding two cases the legislative act involved did not except from its operation existing contracts. back
Manigault v. Springs, 199 U.S. 473 (1905). back
Portland Ry. v. Oregon R.R. Comm’n, 229 U.S. 397 (1913). back
Midland Co. v. Kansas City Power Co., 300 U.S. 109 (1937). back
Hudson Water Co. v. McCarter, 209 U.S. 349 (1908). back
Marcus Brown Co. v. Feldman, 256 U.S. 170, 198 (1921), followed in Levy Leasing Co. v. Siegel, 258 U.S. 242 (1922). back
Chastleton Corp. v. Sinclair, 264 U.S. 543, 547–48 (1924). back
290 U.S. 398 (1934). back
290 U.S. at 442, 444. See also Veix v. Sixth Ward Ass’n, 310 U.S. 32 (1940), in which was sustained a New Jersey statute amending in view of the Depression the law governing building and loan associations. The authority of the state to safeguard the vital interests of the people, said Justice Reed, “extends to economic needs as well.” Id. at 39. In Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525, 531–32 (1949), the Court dismissed out-of-hand a suggestion that a state law outlawing union security agreements was an invalid impairment of existing contracts, citing Blaisdell and Veix. back
See Edwards v. Kearzey, 96 U.S. 595 (1878); Barnitz v. Beverly, 163 U.S. 118 (1896). back
290 U.S. 398 (1934). back
W. B. Worthen Co. v. Thomas, 292 U.S. 426 (1934); W. B. Worthen Co. v. Kavanaugh, 295 U.S. 56 (1935). back
295 U.S. at 62. back
East New York Bank v. Hahn, 326 U.S. 230, 235 (1945), quoting New York Legislative Document (1942), No. 45, p. 25. back
Honeyman v. Jacobs, 306 U.S. 539 (1939). See also Gelfert v. National City Bank, 313 U.S. 221 (1941). back
313 U.S. at 233–34. back
United States Trust Co. v. New Jersey, 431 U.S. 1, 16 (1977). “It is not a dead letter.” Allied Structural Steel Co. v. Spannaus, 438 U.S. 234, 241 (1978). A majority of the Court seems fully committed to using the clause. Only Justices Brennan, White, and Marshall dissented in both cases. Chief Justice Burger and Justices Rehnquist and Stevens joined both opinions of the Court. Of the three remaining Justices, who did not participate in one or the other case, Justice Blackmun wrote the opinion in United States Trust while Justice Stewart wrote the opinion in Spannaus and Justice Powell joined it. back
United States Trust involved a repeal of a covenant statutorily enacted to encourage persons to purchase New York-New Jersey Port Authority bonds by limiting the Authority’s ability to subsidize rail passenger transportation. Spannaus involved a statute requiring prescribed employers who had a qualified pension plan to provide funds sufficient to cover full pensions for all employees who had worked at least 10 years if the employer either terminated the plan or closed his offices in the state, a law that greatly altered the company’s liabilities under its contractual pension plan. back
431 U.S. at 21; 438 U.S. at 244. back
431 U.S. at 22–26; 438 U.S. at 248. back
438 U.S. at 245. back
431 U.S. at 17–21 (the Court was unsure of the value of the interest impaired but deemed it “an important security provision”); 438 U.S. 244–47 (statute mandated company to recalculate, and in one lump sum, contributions previously adequate). back
431 U.S. at 25–32 (state could have modified the impairment to achieve its purposes without totally abandoning the covenant, though the Court reserved judgment whether lesser impairments would have been constitutional, id. at 30 n.28, and it had alternate means to achieve its purposes; the need for mass transportation was obvious when covenant was enacted and state could not claim that unforeseen circumstances had arisen.) back
438 U.S. at 244–51. See also Exxon Corp. v. Eagerton, 462 U.S. 176 (1983) (emphasizing the first but relying on all but the third of these tests in upholding a prohibition on pass-through of an oil and gas severance tax). back
438 U.S. at 242 (emphasis by Court). back