Railroad Company v. Rock

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

71 U.S. 177

Railroad Company  v.  Rock

THIS was a motion by Mr. Templin to dismiss a writ of error to the Supreme Court of Iowa, issued under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, which gives authority to the Supreme Court of the United States to review final judgments in the highest court of a State 'where is drawn in question the validity of a statute of or an authority exercised under any State, on the ground of their being repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, and the decision is in favor of such validity; or where is drawn in question the construction of any clause of the Constitution, &c., of the United States, and the decision is against the title, right, &c., specially set up or claimed under such clause.'

The case was thus:

Rock, on behalf of himself and the other resident taxpayers of Iowa County, filed his bill in the proper State court against the Missouri and Mississippi Railroad Company, plaintiff in error, and Wallace, county judge of the said county. He prayed that certain bonds, purporting to be the bonds of the County of Iowa, which he alleged to be then in the possession of the plaintiff in error, should be declared void, and that plaintiff should be enjoined from negotiating them; and that the county judge should be enjoined from levying or collecting any tax to pay said bonds or the interest on them.

The bill of complainant asked for relief on two grounds:

1. That the county judge disregarded the requirements of a certain statute set forth in the bill, in the submission to the vote of the people of the question of issuing the bonds.

2. That the county judge and the Railroad Company, to whom they were first issued, were guilty of fraud in the issue of the bonds.

The court decreed as prayed by Rock, and the Railroad Company appealed to the Supreme Court of Iowa, which affirmed that decree.

More than two years after this affirmance, the chief justice of that court certified that, upon the hearing in that case, there was drawn in question:

1. The validity of the Constitution of the State of Iowa as being repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.

2. That clause of the Constitution of the United States which provides that no State shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts.

3. That clause of the Constitution of the United States which provides that said Constitution shall be the supreme law of the land.

And it was further certified, that the decision was against the right claimed under the Constitution of the United States and the several clauses thereof.

The ground of the motion made to dismiss was, that it nowhere appeared by the record that the question of the repugnancy of the laws and Constitution of Iowa to the Constitution and laws of the United States was passed upon; and that the certificate of the judge would not of itself conclude the court on that matter.


Messrs. Grant and Cook against the motion:


In Armstrong v. The Treasurer of Athens Co., [1] the chief justice of the State court attached to the record his certificate that the decision drew into question the validity of that clause in the Constitution of the United States, which provides that no State can pass a law impairing the obligation of contracts, and that the decision was against the clause. The certificate in the case at bar is drawn up and signed as was that in the authority cited; and this will be seen by reference to that authority.

In that case the court says:

'We presume the certificate of the presiding judge was made by authority of the court, and as the bill and answer show that such a point might have arisen, and this certificate on the record states that it did arise and was decided, the case comes within the fourth clause, and this court must take jurisdiction.'

But independently of the certificate we have an authoritative report of the case now brought here from the Supreme Court of Iowa, in the printed reports of that court's decisions. Volume 14th of the series gives us the very case now here on error. It removes all difficulty. The court say that the bill was filed to cancel certain bonds for the want of power in the county judge to issue the same, and because of certain alleged irregularities attending their issue, and they add: 'Following Stokes v. Scott Co., [2] and B. & M. R. R. Co. v. Wapello, [3] we affirm the judgment below.'

Now in both the cases cited and followed, the Supreme Court of Iowa held the bonds unconstitutional while yet unissued, and in the present case it applied this principle of unconstitutionality to bonds issued and in the hands of bona fide holders.

The case then fairly presented the constitutional question, and the point which was decided by the Supreme Court of Iowa was, that these bonds (issued and delivered in November, 1858, to bona fide holders, and at a time when, as is well known, the Supreme Court of the State held them to be constitutional and valid), were unconstitutional and invalid, null and void. The Supreme Court of Iowa, then, have made a decision in this case which impairs the obligation of contracts. The judicial interpretation of a law is part of the law as much as if written in it.

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.

Notes[edit]

^1  16 Peters, 281.

^2  10 Iowa, 166.

^3  14 Iowa, 593, 594.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).