Steward Machine Company v. Davis/Dissent Sutherland

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Separate opinion of Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND.

With most of what is said in the opinion just handed down, I concur. I agree that the pay roll tax levied is an excise within the power of Congress; that the devotion of not more than 90 per cent. of it to the credit of employers in states which require the payment of a similar tax under so-called unemployment-tax laws is not an unconstitutional use of the proceeds of the federal tax; that the provision making the adoption by the state of an unemployment law of a specified character a condition precedent to the credit of the tax does not render the law invalid. I agree that the states are not coerced by the federal legislation into adopting unemployment legislation. The provisions of the federal law may operate to induce the state to pass an employment law if it regards such action to be in its interest. But that is not coercion. If the act stopped here, I should accept the conclusion of the court that the legislation is not unconstitutional.

But the question with which I have difficulty is whether the administrative provisions of the act invade the governmental administrative powers of the several states reserved by the Tenth Amendment. A state may enter into contracts; but a state cannot, by contract or statute, surrender the execution, or a share in the execution, of any of its governmental powers either to a sister state or to the federal government, any more than the federal government can surrender the control of any of its governmental powers to a foreign nation. The power to tax is vital and fundamental, and, in the highest degree, governmental in character. Without it, the state could not exist. Fundamental also, and no less important, is the governmental power to expend the moneys realized from taxation, and exclusively to administer the laws in respect of the character of the tax and the methods of laying and collecting it and expending the proceeds.

The people of the United States, by their Constitution, have affirmed a division of internal governmental powers between the federal government and the governments of the several states committing to the first its powers by express grant and necessary implication; to the latter, or to the people, by reservation, 'the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States.' The Constitution thus affirms the complete supremacy and independence of the state within the field of its powers. Carter v. Carter Coal Co., 298 U.S. 238, 295, 56 S.Ct. 855, 865, 80 L.Ed. 1160. The federal government has no more authority to invade that field than the state has to invade the exclusive field of national governmental powers; for, in the oft-repeated words of this court in Texas v. White, 7 Wall. 700, 725, 19 L.Ed. 227, 'the preservation of the States, and the maintenance of their governments, are as much within the design and care of the Constitution as the preservation of the Union and the maintenance of the National government.' The necessity of preserving each from every form of illegitimate intrusion or interference on the part of the other is so imperative as to require this court, when its judicial power is properly invoked, to view with a careful and discriminating eye any legislation challenged as constituting such an intrusion or interference. See South Carolina v. United States, 199 U.S. 437, 448, 26 S.Ct. 110, 50 L.Ed. 261, 4 Ann.Cas. 737.

The precise question, therefore, which we are required to answer by an application of these principles is whether the congressional act contemplates a surrender by the state to the federal government, in whole or in part, of any state governmental power to administer its own unemployment law or the state pay roll-tax funds which it has collected for the purposes of that law. An affirmative answer to this question, I think, must be made.

I do not, of course, doubt the power of the state to select and utilize a depository for the safe-keeping of its funds; but it is quite another thing to agree with the selected depository that the funds shall be withdrawn for certain stipulated purposes, and for no other. Nor do I doubt the authority of the federal government and a state government to co-operate to a common end, provided each of them is authorized to reach it. But such co-operation must be effectuated by an exercise of the powers which they severally possess, and not by an exercise, through invasion or surrender, by one of them of the governmental power of the other.

An illustration of what I regard as permissible co-operation is to be found in title I of the act now under consideration. By that title, federal appropriations for oldage assistance are authorized to be made to any state which shall have adopted a plan for old-age assistance conforming to designated requirements. But the state is not obliged, as a condition of having the federal bounty, to deposit in the federal treasury funds raised by the state. The state keeps its own funds and administers its own law in respect of them, without let or hindrance of any kind on the part of the federal government; so that we have simply the familiar case of federal aid upon conditions which the state, without surrendering any of its powers, may accept or not as it chooses. Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447, 480, 482, 483, 43 S.Ct. 597, 598, 599, 67 L.Ed. 1078.

But this is not the situation with which we are called upon to deal in the present case. For here, the state must deposit the proceeds of its taxation in the federal treasury, upon terms which make the deposit suspiciously like a forced loan to be repaid only in accordance with restrictions imposed by federal law. Title IX, §§ 903(a)(3), 904(a), (b), (e), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1103(a) (3), 1104(a, b, e). All moneys withdrawn from this fund must be used exclusively for the payment of compensation. Section 903(a)(4), 42 U.S.C.A. § 1103(a)(4). And this compensation is to be paid through public employment offices in the state or such other agencies as a federal board may approve. Section 903(a)(1), 42 U.S.C.A. § 1103(a)(1). The act, it is true, recognizes section 903(a)(6), 42 U.S.C.A. § 1103(a)(6) the power of the Legislature to amend or repeal its compensation law at any time. But there is nothing in the act, as I read it, which justifies the conclusion that the state may, in that event, unconditionally withdraw its funds from the federal treasury. Section 903(b), 42 U.S.C.A. § 1103(b), provides that the board shall certify in each taxable year to the Secretary of the Treasury each state whose law has been approved. But the board is forbidden to certify any state which the board finds has so changed its law that it no longer contains the provisions specified in subsection (a), 'or has with respect to such taxable year failed to comply substantially with any such provision.' The federal government, therefore, in the person of its agent, the board, sits not only as a perpetual overseer, interpreter and censor of state legislation on the subject, but, as lord paramount, to determine whether the state is faithfully executing its own law-as though the state were a dependency under pupilage [1] and not to be trusted. The foregoing, taken in connection with the provisions that money withdrawn can be used only in payment of compensation and that it must be paid through an agency approved by the federal board, leaves it, to say the least, highly uncertain whether the right of the state to withdraw any part of its own funds exists, under the act, otherwise than upon these various statutory conditions. It is true also that subsection (f) of section 904, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1104(f), authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to pay to any state agency 'such amount as it may duly requisition, not exceeding the amount standing to the account of such State agency at the time of such payment.' But it is to be observed that the payment is to be made to the state agency, and only such amount as that agency may duly requisition. It is hard to find in this provision any extension of the right of the state to withdraw its funds except in the manner and for the specific purpose prescribed by the act.

By these various provisions of the act, the federal agencies are authorized to supervise and hamper the administrative powers of the state to a degree which not only does not comport with the dignity of a quasi sovereign state-a matter with which we are not judicially concerned but which deny to it that supremacy and freedom from external interference in respect of its affairs which the Constitution contemplates-a matter of very definite judicial concern. I refer to some, though by no means all, of the cases in point.

In the License Cases, 5 How. 504, 588, 12 L.Ed. 256, Mr. Justice McLean said that the federal government was supreme within the scope of its delegated powers, and the state governments equally supreme in the exercise of the powers not delegated nor inhibited to them; that the states exercise their powers over everything connected with their social and internal condition; and that over these subjects the federal government had no power. 'They appertain to the State sovereignty as exclusively as powers exclusively delegated appertain to the general government.'

In Tarble's Case, 13 Wall. 397, 20 L.Ed. 597, Mr. Justice Field, after pointing out that the general government and the state are separate and distinct sovereignties, acting separately and independently of each other within their respective spheres, said that, except in one particular, they stood in the same independent relation to each other as they would if their authority embraced distinct territories. The one particular referred to is that of the supremacy of the authority of the United States in case of conflict between the two.

In Farrington v. Tennessee, 95 U.S. 679, 685, 24 L.Ed. 558, this court said, 'Yet every State has a sphere of action where the authority of the national government may not intrude. Within that domain the State is as if the union were not. Such are the checks and balances in our complicated but wise system of State and national polity.'

'The powers exclusively given to the federal government,' it was said in Worcester v. State of Georgia, 6 Pet. 515, 570, 8 L.Ed. 483, 'are limitations upon the state authorities. But with the exception of these limitations, the states are supreme; and their sovereignty can be no more invaded by the action of the general government, than the action of the state governments can arrest or obstruct the course of the national power.'

The force of what has been said is not broken by an acceptance of the view that the state is not coerced by the federal law. The effect of the dual distribution of powers is completely to deny to the states whatever is granted exclusively to the nation, and, conversely, to deny to the nation whatever is reserved exclusively to the states. 'The determination of the Framers Convention and the ratifying conventions to preserve complete and unimpaired state self-government in all matters not committed to the general government is one of the plainest facts which emerges from the history of their deliberations. And adherence to that determination is incumbent equally upon the federal government and the states. State powers can neither be appropriated on the one hand nor abdicated on the other.' Carter v. Carter Coal Co., supra, 298 U.S. 238, at page 295, 56 S.Ct. 855, 866, 80 L.Ed. 1160. The purpose of the Constitution in that regard does not admit of doubt or qualification; and it can be thwarted no more by voluntary surrender from within than by invasion from without.

Nor may the constitutional objection suggested be overcome by the expectation of public benefit resulting from the federal participation authorized by the act. Such expectation, if voiced in support of a proposed constitutional enactment, would be quite proper for the consideration of the legislative body. But, as we said in the Carter Case, supra, 298 U.S. 238, at page 291, 56 S.Ct. 855, 864, 80 L.Ed. 1160, 'nothing is more certain than that beneficent aims, however great or well directed, can never serve in lieu of constitutional power.' Moreover, everything which the act seeks to do for the relief of unemployment might have been accomplished, as is done by this same act for the relief of the misfortunes of old age, without obliging the state to surrender, or share with another government, any of its powers.

If we are to survive as the United States, the balance between the powers of the nation and those of the states must be maintained. There is grave danger in permitting it to dip in either direction, danger-if there were no other-in the precedent thereby set for further departures from the equipoise. The threat implicit in the present encroachment upon the administrative functions of the states is that greater encroachments, and encroachments upon other functions, will follow.

For the foregoing reasons, I think the judgment below should be reversed.

Mr. Justice VAN DEVANTER joins in this opinion.


^1  Compare Snow v. United States, 18 Wall. 317, 319, 320, 21 L.Ed. 784.