Posts

Barron v. Baltimore (1833) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

, , , , , ,

In the early 1830s, the city of Baltimore was developing as a bustling urban center and port.  The city diverted the streams around John Barron’s successful wharf and lowered the water level, which negatively impacted his business.  He sued the city to recover his financial losses. 

Read more

Willson v. Black Bird Creek Marsh Company (1829) – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

, , , , , ,

The Dissolution of the Dormant Commerce Clause:  Willson v. Black Bird Creek Marsh Co.

In The Colorado Kid, author Steven King says, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”  This is certainly true when it comes to issues of public policy and constitutional law.  In this essay, we discuss the concept of the “Dormant” Commerce Clause, specifically within the context of navigable waterways.  The issue of who has jurisdiction over “navigable” waters is one that remains a subject of enormous debate—especially as the environmental movement has pushed an ever-more-marginal definition of “navigability” in order to pull more waters under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Read more

United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

The three branches of the United States government are often questioned with respect to whether their exercise of powers exceeded the limitations imposed upon them by the United States Constitution. In U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936), the issue was the extent of the president’s and executive branch’s power to conduct the foreign affairs of the United States. The decision has been recognized as a very influential one, establishing the president’s supremacy when it comes to foreign affairs.

Read more

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

, , , , , ,

In May, 1818, James William McCulloch was a cashier at the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank of the United States.  McCulloch issued a series of bank notes on which the bank did not pay a Maryland state tax.  The state treasurer quickly sued to recover the money and won a judgment in Maryland’s highest court. The Supreme Court soon accepted the case, which would have a profound impact in defining the principle of federalism, the reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause in the Constitution, and the national vision of the Marshall Court.

Read more

Propeller Genesee Chief v. Fitzhugh (1851) – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

, , , , , ,

On June 19, 1846, the Rochester, New York, Democrat newspaper reported that over 4,000 people assembled to witness the launch of a new steamship (then often called a “propeller” due to the novel screw propulsion mechanism), the Genesee Chief. She was described as “faultless in her model and appointments.” At 144 feet long, with 20 state rooms, and berths for 75 cabin and 100 steerage passengers, with room for more, she was to be the start of regular steamship service between Rochester and Chicago.

Read more

Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Justice Joseph Story: The Youngest Justice Appointed to the Court                

Most lawyers in private practice at the age of 32 are preparing for potential consideration for, and transition to, partnership.  At that same age, after a distinguished government and law firm career in Boston, Joseph Story took his seat on the United States Supreme Court in 1811, becoming the 18th Justice of the Supreme Court and the youngest justice appointed to the Supreme Court.  Story served on the Court for almost thirty-four years, writing a large number of opinions and dissents.  His tenure coincided with those of two of the longest serving Chief Justices in the Supreme Court’s history, John Marshall and Roger B. Taney.

Read more

Swift v. Tyson (1842) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Section 34 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 provides that “the laws of the several states, except where the Constitution, treaties or statutes of the United States shall otherwise recognize or provide” were to be applied and followed “as rules of decision in trials at common law.” George Swift, a Maine resident, was assigned a bill of exchange from John Tyson in New York.  The bill was dishonored when it became due, and Swift brought a diversity action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking payment.  New York common law held that bills of exchange could not be assigned, and the federal court found in Tyson’s favor on that basis.  Swift appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and the main issue before the court was whether the reference to “the laws of the several states” in Section 34 included common law decisions as well as enacted statutes.

Read more

Cohens v. Virginia (1821) – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

, , , , , ,

Over the years, the Supreme Court has addressed several constitutional topics in cases involving lotteries. Perhaps none is as significant as Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in Cohens v. Virginia. The case was the third major act in a decades-long contest over the nature of the Union and, more specifically, over the constitutional relationship between federal and state laws and between the federal and state judiciaries. On the last point the contest directly involved repeated clashes between the United States Supreme Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals (the state supreme court), and between two dominant jurists, Marshall and the chief judge of Virginia, Spencer Roane. Cohens v. Virginia is the climax in the story of those two rivals.

Read more

Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835) – Guest Essayist: William Morrisey

, , , , , ,

“The Great Chief Justice,” John Marshall (1755-1835)

The longest-serving Chief Justice in our history, author of every major Supreme Court ruling in the first third of the nineteenth century—including the one establishing the principle of judicial review—John Marshall earned undisputed honor as “the Great Chief Justice.” He deserves honor also as a great man.

Read more

Marbury v. Madison (1803) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Marbury v. Madison (1803) – A Landmark Decision Establishing The Supreme Court’s Role

In an effort to fill the Chief Justice vacancy on the Supreme Court before leaving office, President John Adams offered the position to John Jay, who declined, citing the lack of dignity and respect of the Supreme Court.  Secretary of State John Marshall was with Adams when Adams received Jay’s rejection letter and, with time running out, Adams offered Marshall the Chief Justice position, which Marshall accepted. The Senate confirmed Marshall on January 27, 1801, and he became Chief Justice.  However, a Democratic-Republican Party-led Congress repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801 (aka the “Midnight Judges Act”) and subsequently replaced it with the Judiciary Act of 1802, causing the Supreme Court to be on hiatus from December 1801 until February 1803.

Read more

The United States Supreme Court: Landmark Decisions and the Justices Who Made Them – Guest Essayist: William Morrisey

, , , , ,

Introduction: Why Study the Landmark Decisions?

What does it mean to “constitute” America?

How would anyone do that? And why?

And what is “America,” anyway?

“America can mean simply the “New World”—the two American continents, “new to the late-Renaissance Europeans who stumbled upon them en route to China, if not to the Asian settlers who’d lived here for centuries. In that sense, hundreds of millions of Americans now live in dozens of countries, under several distinctive forms of government.

Given the prominent display of the Stars-and-Stripes flag on the Constituting America website, no one reading these words will imagine “America” to mean that, here. We mean the United States of America, a particular country in America, which declared its independence, its self-government, from an empire ruled from Europe. To assert self-government requires one to establish the terms and conditions by which that government will proceed. By leaving home, a young man or woman declares independence from parents: Very well then, but how will you live, under your newfound self-rule? You say you want to live at liberty, pursuing happiness, but what’s your plan? Read more

Constitutional Issues In The 2016 Election – Guest Essayist: Professor William Morrisey

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

Faithful readers of Constituting America’s 90-Day Study have followed the story of our constitution through each of our presidential elections. We have seen that the moral foundations of both of our constitutions—the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution that replaced it—find their most cogent expression in the Declaration of Independence. There, the Founders held the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments must therefore be framed to secure those unalienable rights. Our God-endowed, or natural, rights—regulated by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God—find security in our legal or civil rights, defended by a system of government so structured as to channel the ambitions of political men and women toward the guardianship of those rights. This requires a regime designed to empower the government so our rights can be defended effectively against those who threaten them, at home or abroad. At the same time, the powers of that government will check and balance one another, so that no single individual or group of individuals will likely usurp all those powers, setting us on the road to tyranny. America’s early Constitutional conflicts centered on the question of how much power should be placed in the hands of the national government vis-à-vis the states’ governments. But whether Federalists or Anti-Federalists, Hamiltonians or Jeffersonians, all of the principal founders aimed at securing the natural rights of Americans by the means of well-designed constitutional forms.

Read more

1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt Defeats Alfred Landon: Administrative Centralization And Its Implications For Constitutionalism – Guest Essayist: Professor Joerg Knipprath

, , , , , , , , ,

 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, running for re-election in 1936, received 60.8% of the popular vote, second-highest popular vote percentage since that method of selecting presidential electors became dominant in the 1830s. Only Lyndon Johnson’s 61.1% over Barry Goldwater in 1964, Richard Nixon’s 60.7% over George McGovern in 1972, and Warren Harding’s 60.3% over James Cox in 1920 are on a similar scale. The electoral vote was even more lopsided, as Roosevelt defeated Kansas Governor Alf Landon 523 votes to 8 (46 states to 2). Only Ronald Reagan in 1984 (525 votes to 13; 49 states to 1 plus D.C.) and Richard Nixon in 1972 (520 votes to 17; 49 states to 1 plus D.C.) enjoyed similarly impressive margins since the modern two-party system emerged.

Read more