United States v. Munoz-Flores

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United States v. Munoz-Flores by Thurgood Marshall
Court Documents
Concurring Opinions

United States Supreme Court

495 U.S. 385

United States  v.  Munoz-Flores

No. 88-1932  Argued: Feb. 20, 1990. --- Decided: May 21, 1990


After respondent pleaded guilty to two federal misdemeanors, a Federal Magistrate, inter alia, ordered him to pay, as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3013, a monetary "special assessment" to the Crime Victims Fund established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. He moved to correct his sentence, asserting that the assessments were unconstitutional because Congress had passed § 3013 in violation of the Origination Clause, which mandates that "all Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives." The Magistrate denied the motion, and the District Court affirmed. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, while respondent's claim did not raise a nonjusticiable political question, § 3013 was a bill for raising revenue that had originated in the Senate and, thus, was passed in violation of the Clause.


1. This case does not present a nonjusticiable political question. It has none of the characteristics that Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217, 82 S.Ct. 691, 710, 7 L.Ed.2d 663, identified as essential to a finding that a case raises such a question. Pp. 389-397.

(a) Invalidating a law on Origination Clause grounds would not evince a "lack of . . . respect," within the meaning of Baker, for the House. If disrespect, as the Government uses that term, were sufficient to create a political question, every judicial resolution of a constitutional challenge to a congressional enactment would be impermissible. Congress often explicitly considers whether bills violate constitutional provisions, and any law's enactment is predicated at least implicitly on a judgment that the law is constitutional. These factors do not foreclose subsequent judicial scrutiny of a law's constitutionality. To the contrary, this Court has a duty to conduct such a review. Pp. 389-391.

(b) The Government's two attempts to distinguish an Origination Clause claim from other constitutional challenges are rejected. First, its argument that the House has the power to protect its institutional interests by refusing to pass a bill if it believes that the Clause has been violated does not absolve this Court of its responsibility to consider constitutional challenges to congressional enactments. Even if the House had a greater incentive to safeguard its origination prerogative than it does to refuse to pass a bill that it believes is unconstitutional for other purposes, the fact that one governmental institution has mechanisms available to guard against incursions into its power by other such institutions does not require that the Judiciary remove itself from the controversy by labeling the issue a political question. Second, the Government's suggestion that judicial intervention is unwarranted because this case does not involve individual rights is simply irrelevant to the political question doctrine, which is designed to restrain the Judiciary from inappropriate interference in the business of the other branches. The litigant's identity is immaterial to the presence of these concerns in a particular case. More fundamentally, the Government's claim is in error. This Court has repeatedly adjudicated separation of powers claims brought by people acting in their individual capacities, and provisions for the separation-of-powers within the Legislative Branch are not different in kind from the provisions concerning relations among the branches: Both sets of provisions safeguard liberty. Pp. 392-395.

(c) Also rejected is the Government's argument that another Baker factor justifies a finding that the case is nonjusticiable: The Court could not fashion "judicially manageable standards" for determining either whether a bill is "for raising Revenue" or where a bill "originates." The Government suggests no reason why a judicial system capable of determining, e.g., when punishment is "cruel and unusual" and when bail is "[e]xcessive" will be unable to develop standards in this context. Pp. 395-396.

(d) Justice STEVENS' theory-that, since the Constitution is silent as to the consequences of an Origination Clause violation, but provides by implication, in Art. I, § 7, cl. 2, that any bill passed by both Houses and signed by the President becomes law, some improperly originated bills may become law-is not supported by the better reading of § 7, which gives effect to all of its Clauses in determining what procedures the Legislative and Executive Branches must follow to enact a law. Although none of the Constitution's commands explicitly sets out a remedy for its violation, the principle that the courts will strike down a law when Congress has passed it in violation of such a command is well settled. See, e.g., Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 176-180, 2 L.Ed. 60. Moreover, the logical consequence of Justice STEVENS' view is that the Origination Clause would most appropriately be treated as a constitutional requirement separate from the provisions of § 7 that govern when a bill becomes a "law." Nonetheless, saying that a bill becomes "law" within the meaning of the second Clause does not answer the question whether that "law" is unconstitutional. Pp. 396-397.

2. The special assessment statute is not a "Bil[l] for raising Revenue" and, thus, its passage does not violate the Origination Clause. This case falls squarely within the holdings of Twin City Bank v. Nebecker, 167 U.S. 196, 17 S.Ct. 766, 42 L.Ed. 134, and Millard v. Roberts, 202 U.S. 429, 26 S.Ct. 674, 50 L.Ed. 1090, that a statute that creates, and raises revenue to support, a particular governmental program, as opposed to a statute that raises revenue to support Government generally, is not a "Bil[l] for raising Revenue." The provision was passed as part of, and to provide money for, the Crime Victims Fund. Although any excess was to go to the Treasury, there is no evidence that Congress contemplated the possibility of a substantial excess, nor did such an excess in fact materialize. Any revenue for the general Treasury that § 3013 creates is thus incidental to that provision's primary purpose. The fact that the bill was not designed to benefit the persons from whom the funds were collected is not relevant to a determination whether the bill is a revenue bill. Since § 3013 is not a revenue bill, there is no need to consider whether the Clause would require its invalidation if it were one. Pp. 397-401.

863 F.2d 654 (CA 9 1988), reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 401. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 408.

William C. Bryson, for petitioner.

Judy Clarke, San Diego, Cal., for respondent.

Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.


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).