Luxton v. North River Bridge Company (153 U.S. 525)/Opinion of the Court
The validity of the act of congress incorporating the North River Bridge Company rests upon principles of constitutional law, now established beyond dispute.
The congress of the United States, being empowered by the constitution to regulate commerce among the several states, and to pass all laws necessary or proper for carrying into execution any of the powers specificially conferred, may make use of any appropriate means for this end. As said by Chief Justice Marshall: 'The power of creating a corporation, though appertaining to sovereignty, is not, like the power of making war, or levying taxes, or of regulating commerce, a great substantive and independent power, which cannot be implied as incidental to other powers, or used as a means of executing them. It is never the end for which other powers are exercised, but a means by which other objects are accomplished.' Congress, therefore, may create corporations as appropriate means of executing the powers of government, as, for instance, a bank for the purpose of carrying on the fiscal operations of the United States, or a railroad corporation for the purpose of promoting commerce among the states. McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 411, 422; Osborn v. Bank, 9 Wheat. 738, 861, 873; Pacific Railroad Removal Cases, 115 U.S. 1, 18, 5 Sup. Ct. 1113; California v. Central Pac. R. Co., 127 U.S. 1, 39, 8 Sup. Ct. 1073. Congress has likewise the power, exercised early in this century by successive acts in the case of the Cumberland or National road from the Potomac across the Alleghenies to the Ohio, to authorize the construction of a public highway connecting several states. See Indiana v. U.S., 148 U.S. 148, 13 Sup. Ct. 564. And whenever it becomes necessary, for the accomplishment of any object within the authority of congress, to exercise the right of eminent domain, and take private lands, making just compensation to the owners, congress may do this with or without a concurrent act of the state in which the lands lie. Van Brocklin v. Tennessee, 117 U.S. 151, 154, 6 Sup. Ct. 670, and cases cited; Cherokee Nation v. Southern Kansas Ry. Co., 135 U.S. 641, 656, 10 Sup. Ct. 965.
From these premises, the conclusion appears to be inevitable that, although congress may, if it sees fit, and as it has often done, recognize and approve bridges erected by authority of two states across navigable waters between them, it may, at its discretion, use its sovereign powers, directly or through a corporation created for that object, to construct bridges for the accommodation of interstate commerce by land, as it undoubtedly may to improve the navigation of rivers for the convenience of interstate commerce by water. 1 Hare, Const. Law, 248, 249. See acts of July 14, 1862, c. 167 (12 Stat. 569); February 17, 1865, c. 38 (13 Stat. 431); July 25, 1866, c. 246 (14 Stat. 244); March 3, 1871, c. 121, § 5 (16 Stat. 572, 573); June 16, 1886, c. 417 (24 Stat. 78).
The judicial opinions cited in support of the opposite view are not, having regard to the facts of the cases in which they were uttered, of controlling weight.
Mr. Justice McLean, indeed, in an opinion delivered by him in the circuit court, by which a bill by the United States to restrain the construction of a bridge across the Mississippi river was dismissed, no injury to property of the United States and no substantial obstruction to navigation being shown, and there having been no legislation by congress upon the subject, took occasion to remark that 'neither under the commercial power nor under the power to establish post roads can congress construct a bridge over a navigable water;' that, 'if congress can construct a bridge over a navigable water, under the power to regulate commerce or to establish post roads, on the same principle it may make turnpike or railroads throughout the entire country;' and that 'the latter power has generally been considered as exhausted in the designation of roads on which the mails are to be transported, and the former by the regulation of commerce upon the high seas and upon our rivers and lakes.' U.S. v. Railroad Bridge Co., 6 McLean, 517, 524, 525, Fed. Cas. No. 16,114.
The same learned justice repeated and enlarged upon that idea in his dissenting opinion in Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & B. Bridge Co., 18 How. 421, 442, 443, where, after the Wheeling bridge, constructed across the Ohio river under an act of the state of Virginia, had by a decree of this court, at the suit of the state of Pennsylvania, been declared to be, in its then condition, an unlawful obstruction of the navigation of the river, and in conflict with the acts of congress regulating such navigation, and therefore ordered to be elevated or abated, congress passed an act declaring the bridge to be a lawful structure in its then position and elevation, establishing it as a post road for the passage of the mails of the United States, authorizing the corporation to have and maintain the bridge at that site and elevation, and requiring the captain and crews of all vessels and boats navigating the river to regulate the use thereof, and of any pipes or chimneys belonging thereto, so as not to interfere with the elevation and construction of the bridge. Act Aug. 31, 1852, c. 111, §§ 6, 7 (10 Stat. 112).
But the majority of this court in that case held that 'the act of congress afforded full authority to the defendants to reconstruct the bridge.' 18 How. 436. Mr. Justice Nelson, in delivering its opinion, said: 'We do not enter upon the question whether or not congress possess the power, under the authority in the constitution to establish post offices and post roads, to legalize this bridge; for, conceding that no such powers can be derived from this clause, it must be admitted that it is, at least, necessarily included in the power conferred to regulate commerce among the several states. The regulation of commerce includes intercourse and navigation, and, of course, the power to determine what shall or shall not be deemed, in judgment of law, an obstruction to navigation; and that power, as we have seen, has been exercised consistently with the continuance of the bridge.' Id. 431. And Mr. Justice Daniel, in a concurring opinion, sustaining the validity of the act of congress, said: 'They have regulated this matter upon a scale by them conceived to be just and impartial with reference to that commerce which pursues the course of the river and to that which traverses its channel, and is broadly diffused through the country. They have at the same time, by what they have done, secured to the government and to the public at large the essential advantage of a safe and certain transit over the Ohio.' Id. 458. A similar decision was made in The Clinton Bridge, 10 Wall. 454. See, also, Miller v. Mayor, etc., 109 U.S. 385, 3 Sup. Ct. 228.
In the cases, cited at the bar, of the Passaic Bridges, 3 Wall. append. 782, decided by Mr. Justice Grier in the circuit court, and of Gilman v. Philadelphia, 3 Wall. 713, and Wright v. Nagle, 101 U.S. 791, in this court, the bridge in question had been erected under authority of a state, and was wholly within the state, and was wholly was considered as to the power of congress, in regulating interstate commerce, to authorize the erection of bridges between two states.
But in Stockton v. Railroad Co., 32 Fed. 9, Mr. Justice Bradley, sitting in the circuit court, upheld the constitutionality of the act of congress of June 16, 1886 (chapter 417), authorizing a corporation of New York and one of New Jersey to build and maintain a bridge, as therein directed, across the Staten Island Sound or Arthur Kill. 24 Stat. 78.
The reasons upon which the decision in that case rested were, in substance, the same as were stated by that eminent judge in two opinions afterwards delivered by him in behalf of this court, in which the power of congress, by its own legislation, to confer original authority to erect bridges over navigable waters, whenever congress considers it necessary to do so to meet the demands of interstate commerce by land, is so clearly demonstrated as to render further discussion of the subject superfluous.
In Bridge Co. v. Hatch, 125 U.S. 1, 8 Sup. Ct. 811, in which it was held that section 2 of the act of February 14, 1859, c. 33 (11 Stat. 383), for the admission of Oregon into the Union, providing that 'all the navigable waters of the said state shall be common highways, and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of said state as to all other citizens of the United States,' did not prevent the state, in the absence of legislation by congress, from authorizing the erection of a bridge over such a river, Mr. Justice Bradley, speaking for the whole court, said: 'And although, until congress acts, the states have the plenary power supposed, yet, when congress chooses to act, it is not concluded by anything that the states, or that individuals by its authority or acquiescence, have done, from assuming entire control of the matter, and abating any erections that may have been made, and preventing any others from being made, except in conformity with such regulations as it may impose. It is for this reason, namely, the ultimate (though yet unexerted) power of congress over the whole subject-matter, that the consent of congress is so frequently asked to the erection of bridges over navigable streams. It might itself give original authority for the erection of such bridges, when called for by the demands of interstate commerce by land; but in many, perhaps the majority of, cases, its assent only is asked, and the primary authority is sought at the hands of the state.' 125 U.S. 12, 13, 8 Sup. Ct. 811.
In California v. Central Pac. R. Co., 127 U.S. 1, 8 Sup. Ct. 1073, it was directly adjudged that congress has authority, in the exercise of its power to regulate commerce among the several states, to authorize corporations to construct railroads across the states as well as the territories of the United States; and Mr. Justice Bradley, again speaking for the court, and referring to the acts of congress establishing corporations to build railroads across the continent, said: 'It cannot at the present day be doubted that congress, under the power to regulate commerce among the several states, as well as to provide for postal accommodations and millitary exigencies, had authority to pass these laws. The power to construct, or to authorize individuals or corporations to construct, national highways and bridges from state to state, is essential to the complete control and regulation of interstate commerce. Without authority in congress to establish and maintain such highways and bridges, it would be without authority to regulate one of the most important adjuncts of commerce. This power in former times was exerted to a very limited extent, the Cumberland or National road being the most notable instance. Its exertion was but little called for, as commerce was then mostly conducted by water, and many of our statemen entertained doubts as to existence of the power to establish ways of communication by land. But since, in consequence of the expansion of the country, the multiplication of its products, and the invention of railroads and locomotion by steam, land transportation has so vastly increased, a sounder consideration of the subject has prevailed, and led to the conclusion that congress has plenary power over the whole subject. Of course, the authority of congress over the territories of the United States, and its power to grant franchises exercisible therein, are, and ever have been, undoubted. But the wider power was very freely exercised, and much to the general satisfaction, in the creation of the vast system of railroads connecting the east with the Pacific, traversing states as well as territories, and employing the agency of state as well as federal corporations.' 127 U.S. 39, 40, 8 Sup. Ct. 1073.
The act of congress now in question declares the construction of the North River bridge between the states of New York and New Jersey to be 'in order to facilitate interstate commerce,' and it makes due provision for the condemnation of lands for the construction and maintenance of the bridge and its approaches, and for just compensation to the owners, which has been accordingly awarded to the plaintiff in error.
In the light of the foregoing principles and authorities, the objection made to the consitutionality of this act cannot be sustained.