Express Constitutional Restrictions on Congress.

“[T]he Con- stitution is filled with provisions that grant Congress or the States specific power to legislate in certain areas; these granted powers are always subject to the limitations that they may not be exercised in a way that violates other specific provisions of the Constitution.”1288 The Supreme Court has had no occasion to deal with this principle in the context of Congress’s power over its jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the inferior federal courts, but the passage of the Portal-to-Portal Act1289 presented the lower courts such an opportunity. The Act extinguished back-pay claims growing out of several Supreme Court interpretations of the Fair Labor Standards Act; it also provided that no court should have jurisdiction to enforce any claim arising from these decisions. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sustained the Act.1290 The court noted that the withdrawal of jurisdiction would be ineffective if the extinguishment of the claims as a substantive matter were invalid. “We think . . . that the exercise by Congress of its control over jurisdiction is subject to compliance with at least the requirements of the Fifth Amendment. That is to say, while Congress has the undoubted power to give, withhold, and restrict the jurisdiction of the courts other than the Supreme Court, it must not so exercise that power as to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or to take private property without just compensation.”1291 The Court, however, found that the Portal-to-Portal Act “did not violate the Fifth Amendment in so far as it may have withdrawn from private individuals . . . any rights . . . which rested upon private contracts they had made. Nor is the Portal-to-Portal Act a violation of Article III of the Constitution or an encroachment upon the separate power of the judiciary.”1292


Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 29 (1968). The elder Justice Harlan perhaps had the same thought in mind when he said that, with regard to Congress’s power over jurisdiction, “What such exceptions and regulations should be it is for Congress, in its wisdom, to establish, having of course due regard to all the provisions of the Constitution.” United States v. Bitty, 208 U.S. 393, 399–400 (1908). [Back to text]
52 Stat. 1060, 29 U.S.C. § 201. [Back to text]
Battaglia v. General Motors Corp., 169 F.2d 254 (2d Cir. 1948), cert. denied, 335 U.S. 887 (1948). See also Seese v. Bethlehem Steel Co., 168 F.2d 58, 65 (4th Cir. 1948). For later dicta, see Johnson v. Robison, 415 U.S. 361, 366–67 (1974); Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 761–62 (1975); Territory of Guam v. Olsen, 431 U.S. 195, 201–02, 204 (1977); Adamo Wrecking Co. v. United States, 434 U.S. 275 (1978); Bowen v. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, 476 U.S. 667, 681 n.12 (1986); Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 592, 603 (1988); but see id. at 611–15 (Justice Scalia dissenting). Note the relevance of United States v. Mendoza-Lopez, 481 U.S. 828 (1987). [Back to text]
169 F.2d at 257. [Back to text]
169 F.2d at 261–62. [Back to text]