Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1
Osborn v. Bank of the United States9 Wheat. 738 1824
[Marshall, C.J.:] At the close of the argument, a point was suggested, of such vital importance, as to induce the Court to request that it might be particularly spoken to. That point is, the right of the Bank to sue in the Courts of the United States. It has been argued, and ought to be disposed of, before we proceed to the actual exercise of jurisdiction, by deciding on the rights of the parties.
The appellants contest the jurisdiction of the Court on two grounds:
1st. That the act of Congress has not given it.
2d. That, under the constitution, Congress cannot give it.
1. The first part of the objection depends entirely on the language of the act. The words are, that the Bank shall be "made able and capable in law," "to sue and be sued, plead and be impleaded, answer and be answered, defend and be defended, in all State Courts having competent jurisdiction, and in any Circuit Court of the United States."
These words seem to the Court to admit of but one interpretation. They cannot be made plainer by explanation. They give, expressly, the right "to sue and be sued," "in every Circuit Court of the United States," and it would be difficult to substitute other terms which would be more direct and appropriate for the purpose. The argument of the appellants is founded on the opinion of this Court, in The Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, (5 Cranch, 85.) In that case it was decided, that the former Bank of the United States was not enabled, by the act which incorporated it, to sue in the federal Courts. The words of the 3d section of that act are, that the Bank may "sue and be sued," &c. "in Courts of record, or any other place whatsoever." The Court was of opinion, that these general words, which are usual in all acts of incorporation, gave only a general capacity to sue, not a particular privilege to sue in the Courts of the United States; and this opinion was strengthened by the circumstance that the 9th rule of the 7th section of the same act, subjects the directors, in case of excess in contracting debt, to be sued in their private capacity, "in any Court of record of the United States, or either of them." The express grant of jurisdiction to the federal Courts, in this case, was considered as having some influence on the construction of the general words of the 3d section, which does not mention those Courts. Whether this decision be right or wrong, it amounts only to a declaration, that a general capacity in the Bank to sue, without mentioning the Courts of the Union, may not give a right to sue in those Courts. To infer from this, that words expressly conferring a right to sue in those Courts, do not give the right, is surely a conclusion which the premises do not warrant.
The act of incorporation, then, confers jurisdiction on the Circuit Courts of the United States, if Congress can confer it.
2. We will now consider the constitutionality of the clause in the act of incorporation, which authorizes the Bank to sue in the federal Courts.
In support of this clause, it is said, that the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, of every well constructed government, are co-extensive with each other; that is, they are potentially co-extensive. The executive department may constitutionally execute every law which the Legislature may constitutionally make, and the judicial department may receive from the Legislature the power of construing every such law. All governments which are not extremely defective in their organization, must possess, within themselves, the means of expounding, as well as enforcing, their own laws. If we examine the constitution of the United States, we find that its framers kept this great political principle in view. The 2d article vests the whole executive power in the President; and the 3d article declares, "that the judicial power shall extend to all cases in law and equity arising under this constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority."
This clause enables the judicial department to receive jurisdiction to the full extent of the constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States, when any question respecting them shall assume such a form that the judicial power is capable of acting on it. That power is capable of acting only when the subject is submitted to it by a party who asserts his rights in the form prescribed by law. It then becomes a case, and the constitution declares, that the judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under the constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States.
The suit of The Bank of the United States v. Osborn and others, is a case, and the question is, whether it arises under a law of the United States?
The appellants contend, that it does not, because several questions may arise in it, which depend on the general principles of the law, not on any act of Congress.
If this were sufficient to withdraw a case from the jurisdiction of the federal Courts, almost every case, although involving the construction of a law, would be withdrawn; and a clause in the constitution, relating to a subject of vital importance to the government, and expressed in the most comprehensive terms, would be construed to mean almost nothing. There is scarcely any case, every part of which depends on the constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. The questions, whether the fact alleged as the foundation of the action, be real or fictitious; whether the conduct of the plaintiff has been such as to entitle him to maintain his action; whether his right is barred; whether he has received satisfaction, or has in any manner released his claims, are questions, some or all of which may occur in almost every case; and if their existence be sufficient to arrest the jurisdiction of the Court, words which seem intended to be as extensive as the constitution, laws, and treaties of the Union, which seem designed to give the Courts of the goverment the construction of all its acts, so far as they affect the rights of individuals, would be reduced to almost nothing.
In those cases in which original jurisdiction is given to the Supreme Court, the judicial power of the United States cannot be exercised in its appellate form. In every other case, the power is to be exercised in its original or appellate form, or both, as the wisdom of Congress may direct. With the exception of these cases, in which original jurisdiction is given to this Court, there is none to which the judicial power extends, from which the original jurisdiction of the inferior Courts is excluded by the constitution. Original jurisdiction, so far as the constitution gives a rule, is co-extensive with the judicial power. We find, in the constitution, no prohibition to its exercise, in every case in which the judicial power can be exercised. It would be a very bold construction to say, that this power could be applied in its appellate form only, to the most important class of cases to which it is applicable.
The constitution establishes the Supreme Court, and defines its jurisdiction. It enumerates cases in which its jurisdiction is original and exclusive; and then defines that which is appellate, but does not insinuate, that in any such case, the power cannot be exercised in its original form by Courts of original jurisdiction. It is not insinuated, that the judicial power, in cases depending on the character of the cause, cannot be exercised in the first instance, in the Courts of the Union, but must first be exercised in the tribunals of the State; tribunals over which the government of the Union has no adequate control, and which may be closed to any claim asserted under a law of the United States.
We perceive, then, no ground on which the proposition can be maintained, that Congress is incapable of giving the Circuit Courts original jurisdiction, in any case to which the appellate jurisdiction extends.
We ask, then, if it can be sufficient to exclude this jurisdiction, that the case involves questions depending on general principles? A cause may depend on several questions of fact and law. Some of these may depend on the construction of a law of the United States; others on principles unconnected with that law. If it be a sufficient foundation for jurisdiction, that the title or right set up by the party, may be defeated by one construction of the constitution or law of the United States, and sustained by the opposite construction, provided the facts necessary to support the action be made out, then all the other questions must be decided as incidental to this, which gives that jurisdiction. Those other questions cannot arrest the proceedings. Under this construction, the judicial power of the Union extends effectively and beneficially to that most important class of cases, which depend on the character of the cause. On the opposite construction, the judicial power never can be extended to a whole case, as expressed by the constitution, but to those parts of cases only which present the particular question involving the construction of the constitution or the law. We say it never can be extended to the whole case, because, if the circumstance that other points are involved in it, shall disable Congress from authorizing the Courts of the Union to take jurisdiction of the original cause, it equally disables Congress from authorizing those Courts to take jurisdiction of the whole cause, on an appeal, and thus will be restricted to a single question in that cause; and words obviously intended to secure to those who claim rights under the constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, a trial in the federal Courts, will be restricted to the insecure remedy of an appeal upon an insulated point, after it has received that shape which may be given to it by another tribunal, into which he is forced against his will.
We think, then, that when a question to which the judicial power of the Union is extended by the constitution, forms an ingredient of the original cause, it is in the power of Congress to give the Circuit Courts jurisdiction of that cause, although other questions of fact or of law may be involved in it.
The case of the Bank is, we think, a very strong case of this description. The charter of incorporation not only creates it, but gives it every faculty which it possesses. The power to acquire rights of any description, to transact business of any description, to make contracts of any description, to sue on those contracts, is given and measured by its charter, and that charter is a law of the United States. This being can acquire no right, make no contract, bring no suit, which is not authorized by a law of the United States. It is not only itself the mere creature of a law, but all its actions and all its rights are dependant on the same law. Can a being, thus constituted, have a case which does not arise literally, as well as substantially, under the law?
Take the case of a contract, which is put as the strongest against the Bank.
When a Bank sues, the first question which presents itself, and which lies at the foundation of the cause, is, has this legal entity a right to sue? Has it a right to come, not into this Court particularly, but into any Court? This depends on a law of the United States. The next question is, has this being a right to make this particular contract? If this question be decided in the negative, the cause is determined against the plaintiff; and this question, too, depends entirely on a law of the United States. These are important questions, and they exist in every possible case. The right to sue, if decided once, is decided for ever; but the power of Congress was exercised antecedently to the first decision on that right, and if it was constitutional then, it cannot cease to be so, because the particular question is decided. It may be revived at the will of the party, and most probably would be renewed, were the tribunal to be changed. But the question respecting the right to make a particular contract, or to acquire a particular property, or to sue on account of a particular injury, belongs to every particular case, and may be renewed in every case. The question forms an original ingredient in every cause. Whether it be in fact relied on or not, in the defence, it is still a part of the cause, and may be relied on. The right of the plaintiff to sue, cannot depend on the defence which the defendant may choose to set up. His right to sue is anterior to that defence, and must depend on the state of things when the action is brought. The questions which the case involves, then, must determine its character, whether those questions be made in the cause or not.
The appellants say, that the case arises on the contract; but the validity of the contract depends on a law of the United States, and the plaintiff is compelled, in every case, to show its validity. The case arises emphatically under the law. The act of Congress is its foundation. The contract could never have been made, but under the authority of that act. The act itself is the first ingredient in the case, is its origin, is that from which every other part arises. That other questions may also arise, as the execution of the contract, or its performance, cannot change the case, or give it any other origin than the charter of incorporation. The action still originates in, and is sustained by, that charter.
The clause giving the Bank a right to sue in the Circuit Courts of the United States, stands on the same principle with the acts authorizing officers of the United States who sue in their own names, to sue in the Courts of the United States. The Postmaster General, for example, cannot sue under that part of the constitution which gives jurisdiction to the federal Courts, in consequence of the character of the party, nor is he authorized to sue by the Judiciary Act. He comes into the Courts of the Union under the authority of an act of Congress, the constitutionality of which can only be sustained by the admission that his suit is a case arising under a law of the United States. If it be said, that it is such a case, because a law of the United States authorizes the contract, and authorizes the suit, the same reasons exist with respect to a suit brought by the Bank, That, too, is such a case; because that suit, too, is itself authorized, and is brought on a contract authorized by a law of the United States. It depends absolutely on that law, and cannot exist a moment without its authority.
If it be said, that a suit brought by the Bank may depend in fact altogether on questions unconnected with any law of the United States, it is equally true, with respect to suits brought by the Postmaster General. The plea in bar may be payment, if the suit be brought on a bond, or non-assumpsit, if it be brought on an open account, and no other question may arise than what respects the complete discharge of the demand. Yet the constitutionality of the act authorizing the Postmaster General to sue in the Courts of the United States, has never been drawn into question. It is sustained singly by an act of Congress, standing on that construction of the constitution which asserts the right of the Legislature to give original jurisdiction to the Circuit Courts, in cases arising under a law of the United States.
The clause in the patent law, authorizing suits in the Circuit Courts, stands, we think, on the same principle. Such a suit is a case arising under a law of the United States. Yet the defendant may not, at the trial, question the validity of the patent, or make any point which requires the construction of an act of Congress. He may rest his defence exclusively on the fact, that he has not violated the right of the plaintiff. That this fact becomes the sole question made in the cause, cannot oust the jurisdiction of the Court, or establish the position, that the case does not arise under a law of the United States.
It is said, that a clear distinction exists between the party and the cause; that the party may originate under a law with which the cause has no connexion; and that Congress may, with the same propriety, give a naturalized citizen, who is the mere creature of a law, a right to sue in the Courts of the United States, as give that right to the Bank.
This distinction is not denied; and, if the act of Congress was a simple act of incorporation, and contained nothing more, it might be entitled to great consideration. But the act does not stop with incorporating the Bank: It proceeds to bestow upon the being it has made, all the faculties and capacities which that being possesses. Every act of the Bank grows out of this law, and is tested by it. To use the language of the constitution, every act of the Bank arises out of this law.
A naturalized citizen is indeed made a citizen under an act of Congress, but the act does not proceed to give, to regulate, or to prescribe his capacities. He becomes a member of the society, possessing all the rights of a native citizen, and standing, in the view of the constitution, on the footing of a native. The constitution does not authorize Congress to enlarge or abridge those rights. The simple power of the national Legislature, is to prescribe a uniform rule of naturalization, and the exercise of this power exhausts it, so far as respects the individual. The constitution then takes him up, and, among other rights, extends to him the capacity of suing in the Courts of the United States, precisely under the same circumstances under which a native might sue. He is distinguishable in nothing from a native citizen, except so far as the constitution makes the distinction. The law makes none.
There is, then, no resemblance between the act incorporating the Bank, and the general naturalization law.
Upon the best consideration we have been able to bestow on this subject, we are of opinion, that the clause in the act of incorporation, enabling the Bank to sue in the Courts of the United States, is consistent with the constitution, and to be obeyed in all Courts.
Johnson, J., dissenting: . . . In the present instance, I cannot persuade myself, that the constitution sanctions the vesting of the right of action in this Bank, in cases in which the privilege is exclusively personal, or in any case, merely on the ground that a question might possibly be raised in it, involving the constitution, or constitutionality of a law, of the United States.
When laws were heretofore passed for raising a revenue by a duty on stamped paper, the tax was quietly acquiesced in, notwithstanding it entrenched so closely on the unquestionable power of the States over the law of contracts; but had the same law which declared void contracts not written upon stamped paper, declared, that every person holding such paper should be entitled to bring his action "in any Circuit Court" of the United States, it is confidently believed that there could have been but one opinion on the constitutionality of such a provision. The whole jurisdiction over contracts, might thus have been taken from the State Courts, and conferred upon those of the United States. Nor would the evil have rested there; by a similar exercise of power, imposing a stamp on deeds generally, jurisdiction over the territory of the State, whoever might be parties, even between citizens of the same State--jurisdiction of suits instituted for the recovery of legacies or distributive portions of intestates' estates--jurisdiction, in fact, over almost every possible case, might be transferred to the Courts of the United States. Wills may be required to be executed on stamped paper; taxes may be, and have been, imposed upon legacies and distributions; and, in all such cases, there is not only a possibility, but a probability, that a question may arise, involving the constitutionality, construction, &c. of a law of the United States. If the circumstance, that the questions which the case involves, are to determine its character, whether those questions be made in the case or not, then every case here alluded to, may as well be transferred to the jurisdiction of the United States, as those to which this Bank is a party. But still farther, as was justly insisted in argument, there is not a tract of land in the United States, acquired under laws of the United States, whatever be the number of mesne transfers that it may have undergone, over which the jurisdiction of the Courts of the United States might not be extended by Congress, upon the very principle on which the right of suit in this Bank is here maintained. Nor is the case of the alien, put in argument, at all inapplicable. The one acquires its character of individual property, as the other does his political existence, under a law of the United States; and there is not a suit which may be instituted to recover the one, nor an action of ejectment to be brought by the other, in which a right acquired under a law of the United States, does not lie as essentially at the basis of the right of action, as in the suits brought by this Bank. It is no answer to the argument, to say, that the law of the United States is but ancillary to the constitution, as to the alien; for the constitution could do nothing for him without the law: and, whether the question be upon law or constitution, still if the possibility of its arising be a sufficient circumstance to bring it within the jurisdiction of the United States Courts, that possibility exists with regard to every suit affected by alien disabilities; to real actions in time of peace--to all actions in time of war.
I cannot persuade myself, then, that, with these palpable consequences in view, Congress ever could have intended to vest in the Bank of the United States, the right of suit to the extent here claimed. And, notwithstanding the confidence with which this point has been argued, an examination of the terms of the act, and a consideration of them with a view to the context, will be found to leave it by no means a clear case, that such is the legal meaning of the act of incorporation. To be sure, if the act had simply and substantively given the right "to sue and be sued in the Circuit Courts of the United States," there could have been no question made upon the construction of those words. But such is not the fact. The words are, not that the Bank shall be made able and capable in law, to sue, &c., but that it shall, "by a certain name," be made able and capable in law to do the various acts therein enumerated. And these words, under the force of which this suit is instituted, are found in the ordinary incorporating clause of this act, a clause which is well understood to be, and which this Court, in the case of Deveaux, has recognised to be, little more than the mere common place or formula of such an act. The name of a corporation is the symbol of its personal existence; a misnomer there is fatal to a suit, (and still more fatal as to other transactions.) By the incorporating clause, a name is given it, and, with that name, a place among created beings; then usually follows an enumeration of the ordinary acts in which it may personate a natural man; and among those acts, the right to sue and be sued, of which the Court, in Deveaux's case, very correctly remarks, that it is "a power which if not incident to a corporation, is conferred by every incorporating act, and is not understood to enlarge the jurisdiction of any particular Court, but to give a capacity to the corporation to appear as a corporation in any Court which would by law have cognizance of the cause if brought by individuals." With this qualification, the clause in question will be construed, as an enumeration of incidents, instead of a string of enactments; and such a construction is strongly countenanced by the concluding sentence of the section, for, after running through the whole routine of powers, most of which are unquestionably incidental, and needed no enactment to vest them, it concludes thus: "and generally to do and execute all and singular the acts, matters, and things, which to them it shall and may appertain to do." And, in going over the act, it will be found, that whenever it is contemplated to vest a power not incidental, it is done by a specific provision, made the subject of a distinct clause; such is that power to transact the business of the loan-office of the United States. And, indeed, there is one section of the act, which strikingly exhibits the light in which the law-makers considered the incorporating clause. I mean the tenth; which, notwithstanding that the same clause in the seventh section, which is supposed to confer this sweeping power to sue, confers also, in terms equally comprehensive, the power to make laws for the institution, and "to do and execute all and singular the matters and things, which to them it shall and may appertain to do," contains an enactment in the following words: "that they shall have power to appoint such officers, clerks, and servants, under them, for executing the business of the corporation, and to allow them such compensation for their services respectively, as shall be reasonable; and shall be capable of exercising such other powers and authorities for the well governing and ordering the officers of the said corporation, as shall be prescribed by the laws, regulations, and ordinances, of the same;" a section which would have been altogether unnecessary, had the seventh section been considered as enacting, instead of enumerating and limiting. I consider the incorporating clause, then, not as purporting the absolute investment of any power, but as the usual and formal declaration of the extent to which this artificial should personate the natural person, in the transactions incident to ordinary life, or to the peculiar objects of its creation; and, therefore, not vesting the right to sue in the Courts of the United States, but only the right of personating the natural man in the Courts of the United States, as it might, upon general principles, in any other Courts of competent jurisdiction. And this, I say, is consonant to the decision in Deveaux's case, and sustained by abundant evidence on the face of the act itself. Indeed, any other view of the effect of the section, converts some of its provisions into absolute nonsense.
It has been argued, and I have no objection to admit, that the phraseology of this act has been varied from that incorporating the former Bank, with a view to meet the decision in Deveaux's case. But it is perfectly obvious, that in the prosecution of that design, the purport of Deveaux's case has been misapprehended. The Court there decide, that the jurisdiction of the United States depended, (1.) on the character of the cause, (2.) on the character of the parties; that the Judiciary Act confined the jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts to the second class of cases, and the incorporating act contained no words that purported to carry it further. Whether the legislative power of the United States could extend it as far as is here insisted on, or what words would be adequate to that purpose, the case neither called on the Court to decide, nor has it proposed to decide. If any thing is to be inferred from that decision on those points, it is unfavourable to the sufficiency of the words inserted in the present act. For, the argument of the Court intimates, that where the Legislature propose to give jurisdiction to the Courts of the United States, they do it by a separate provision, as in the case of the action of debt for exceeding the sum authorized to be loaned. And on the words of the incorporating section, it makes this remark, "that it is not understood to enlarge the jurisdiction of any particular Court, but to give a capacity to the corporation to appear as a corporation in any Court, which would by law have cognizance of the cause if brought by individuals. If jurisdiction is given by this clause to the federal Courts, it is equally given to all Courts having original jurisdiction, and for all sums, however small they be." Now, the difference of phraseology between the former act and the present, in the clause in question, is this: the former has these words, "may sue and be sued, &c. in Courts of record or any other place whatsoever;" the present act has substituted these words, "in all State Courts having competent jurisdiction, and in any Circuit Court of the United States." Now, the defect here could not have been the want of adequate words, had the intent appeared to have been, to enlarge the jurisdiction of any particular Court. For, if the Circuit Courts were Courts of record, the right of suit given was as full as any other words could have made it. But, as the Court in its own words assigns the ground of its decision, the clause could not have been intended to enlarge the jurisdiction of the State Courts, and therefore could not have been intended to enlarge that of the federal Courts, much less to have extended it to the smallest sum possible. Therefore it concludes, that the clause is one of mere enumeration, containing, as it expresses it, "the powers which, if not incident to a corporation, are conferred by every incorporating act, and are not understood to enlarge," &c. If, then, this variation had in view the object which is attributed to it, the words intended to answer that object have been inserted so unhappily as to neutralize its influence; but, I think it much more consistent with the respect due to the draftsman, who was known to have been an able lawyer, to believe that, with such an object in view, he would have pursued a much more plain and obvious course, and given it a distinct and unequivocal section to itself, or at least have worded it with more marked attention. This opinion is further supported, by considering the absurdities that a contrary opinion would lead to.
A literal translation of the words in question is impossible. Nothing but inconsistencies present themselves, if we attempt to apply it without a reference to the laws and constitution of the United States, forming together the judicial system of the Union. The words are, "may sue and be sued, &c., in any State Court having competent jurisdiction, and in any Circuit Court of the United States." But why should one member of the passage be entitled to an enacting effect, and not the residue? Yet, who will impute to the Legislature or the draftsman, an intention to vest a jurisdiction by these words in a State Court? I do not speak of the positive effect; since the failure of one enactment, because of a want either of power to give or capacity to receive, will not control the effect as to any other enactment. I speak of the intent or understanding of the law-maker; who must have used these words, as applicable to the State Courts, in an enacting sense, if we suppose him to have used them in that sense, as to the Courts of the United States. Yet I should be very unwilling to impute to him, or to the Legislature of the country, ignorance of the fact, that such an enactment, if it was one, could not give a right to sue in the State Courts, if the right did not exist without it. Or, in fact, that such enactment was altogether unnecessary, if the legislative power, which must give effect to such an enactment, was adequate to constitute effectually this body corporate.
But why should this supposed enactment go still farther, and confer the capacity to be sued, as well as to sue, either in the Courts of the one jurisdiction or the other? Did the lawgivers suppose that this corporation would not be subject to suit, without an express enactment for that purpose also? Or was it guilty of the more unaccountable mistake, of supposing that it could confer upon individuals, indiscriminately, this privilege of bringing suits in the Courts of the United States against the Bank? that too, for a cause of action originating, say, in work and labour, or in a special action on the case, or perhaps, ejectment to try title to land mortgaged by a person not having the estate in him, or purchased of a tortious holder for a banking house? I cannot acquiesce in the supposition; and yet, if one is an enactment, and takes effect as such, they are all enactments, for they are uttered eodem flatu.
My own conclusion is, that none of them are enactments, but all merely declaratory; or, at most, only enacting, in the words of the Court, in the case of Deveaux, that the Bank may, by its corporate name and metaphysical existence, bring suit, or personate the natural man, in the Courts specified, as though it were in fact a natural person; that is, in those cases in which, according to existing laws, suits may be brought in the Courts specified respectively.
Indeed, a more unrestricted sense given to the words of the act, could not be carried into execution; a literal exercise of the right of suit, supposed to be granted, would be impossible. Can the Bank of the United States be sued (in the literal language of the act) "in any Circuit Court of the United States?" in that of Ohio, or Louisiana, for instance? Locality, in this respect, cannot be denied to such an institution; or, at least, it is only incidentally, by distress infinite, or attachment, for instance, that such a suit could be maintained. Nor, on the other hand, could the Bank sue literally in any Circuit Court of the United States. It must, of necessity, be confined to the Circuit Court of that district in which the defendant resides, or is to be found. And thus, at last, we circumscribe these general words, by reference to the judicial system of the United States, as it existed at the time. And why the same restriction should not have been imposed, as to amount, which is imposed as to all other suitors, to wit, 500 dollars and upwards, is to me inscrutable, except on the supposition that this clause was not intended for any other purpose than that which I have supposed. The United States have suffered no other suitors to institute a suit in its Courts for less than that sum, and it is hard to conceive why the Bank should be permitted to institute a suit to recover, if it will, a single cent. This consideration is expressly drawn into notice by this Court, in the case of Deveaux, and if it was entitled to weight then, in fixing the construction of the incorporating section. I see no reason why it should be unnoticed now.
I will dwell no longer on a point, which is in fact secondary and subordinate; for if Congress can vest this jurisdiction, and the people will it, the act may be amended, and the jurisdiction vested. I next proceed to consider, more distinctly, the constitutional question, on the right to vest the jurisdiction to the extent here contended for.
And here I must observe, that I altogether misunderstood the counsel, who argued the cause for the plaintiff in error, if any of them contended against the jurisdiction, on the ground that the cause involved questions depending on general principles. No one can question, that the Court which has jurisdiction of the principal question, must exercise jurisdiction over every question. Neither did I understand them as denying, that if Congress could confer on the Circuit Courts appellate, they could confer original jurisdiction. The argument went to deny the right to assume jurisdiction on a mere hypothesis. It was one of description, identity, definition; they contended, that until a question involving the construction or administration of the laws of the United States did actually arise, the casus federis was not presented, on which the constitution authorized the government to take to itself the jurisdiction of the cause. That until such a question actually arose, until such a case was actually presented, non constat, but the cause depended upon general principles, exclusively cognizable in the State Courts; that neither the letter nor the spirit of the constitution sanctioned the assumption of jurisdiction on the part of the United States at any previous stage.
And this doctrine has my hearty concurrence in its general application. A very simple case may be stated, to illustrate its bearing on the question of jurisdiction between the two governments. By virtue of treaties with Great Britain, aliens holding lands were exempted from alien disabilities, and made capable of holding, aliening, and transmitting their estates, in common with natives. But why should the claimants of such lands, to all eternity, be vested with the privilege of bringing an original suit in the Courts of the United States? It is true, a question might be made, upon the effect of the treaty, on the rights claimed by or through the alien; but until that question does arise, nay, until a decision against the right takes place, what end has the United States to subserve in claiming jurisdiction of the cause? Such is the present law of the United States, as to all but this one distinguished party; and that law was passed when the doctrines, the views, and ends of the constitution, were, at least, as well understood as they are at present. I attach much importance to the 25th section of the judiciary act, not only as a measure of policy, but as a cotemporaneous exposition of the constitution on this subject; as an exposition of the words of the constitution, deduced from a knowledge of its views and policy. The object was, to secure a uniform construction and a steady execution of the laws of the Union. Except as far as this purpose might require, the general government had no interest in stripping the State Courts of their jurisdiction; their policy would rather lead to avoid incumbering themselves with it. Why then should it be vested with jurisdiction in a thousand causes, on a mere possibility of a question arising, which question, at last, does not occur in one of them? Indeed, I cannot perceive how such a reach of jurisdiction can be asserted, without changing the reading of the constitution on this subject altogether. The judicial power extends only to "cases arising," that is, actual, not potential cases. The framers of the constitution knew better, than to trust such a quo minus fiction in the hands of any government.
I have never understood any one to question the right of Congress to vest original jurisdiction in its inferior Courts, in cases coming properly within the description of "cases arising under the laws of the United States;" but surely it must first be ascertained, in some proper mode, that the cases are such as the constitution describes. By possibility, a constitutional question may be raised in any conceivable suit that may be instituted; but that would be a very insufficient ground for assuming universal jurisdiction; and yet, that a question has been made, as that, for instance, on the Bank charter, and may again be made, seems still worse, as a ground for extending jurisdiction. For, the folly of raising it again in every suit instituted by the Bank, is too great, to suppose it possible. Yet this supposition, and this alone, would seem to justify vesting the Bank with an unlimited right to sue in the federal Courts. Indeed, I cannot perceive how, with ordinary correctness, a question can be said to be involved in a cause, which only may possibly be made, but which, in fact, is the very last question that there is any probability will be made; or rather, how that can any longer be denominated a question, which has been put out of existence by a solemn decision. The constitution presumes, that the decisions of the supreme tribunal will be acquiesced in; and after disposing of the few questions which the constitution refers to it, all the minor questions belong properly to the State jurisdictions, and never were intended to be taken away in mass.
Efforts have been made to fix the precise sense of the constitution, when it vests jurisdiction in the general government, in "cases arising under the laws of the United States." To me, the question appears susceptible of a very simple solution; that all depends upon the identity of the case supposed; according to which idea, a case may be such in its very existence, or it may become such in its progress. An action may "live, move, and have its being," in a law of the United States; such is that given for the violation of a patent-right, and four or five different actions given by this act of incorporation; particularly that against the President and Directors for over-issuing; in all of which cases the plaintiff must count upon the law itself as the ground of his action. And of the other description, would have been an action of trespass, in this case, had remedy been sought for an actual levy of the tax imposed. Such was the case of the former Bank against Deveaux, and many others that have occurred in this Court, in which the suit, in its form, was such as occur in ordinary cases, but in which the pleadings or evidence raised the question on the law or constitution of the United States. In this class of cases, the occurrence of a question makes the case, and transfers it, as provided for under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, to the jurisdiction of the United States. And this appears to me to present the only sound and practical construction of the constitution on this subject; for no other cases does it regard as necessary to place under the control of the general government. It is only when the case exhibits one or the other of these characteristics, that it is acted upon by the constitution. Where no question is raised, there can be no contrariety of construction; and what else had the constitution to guard against? As to cases of the first description, ex necessitate rei, the Courts of the United States must be susceptible of original jurisdiction; and as to all other cases, I should hold them, also, susceptible of original jurisdiction, if it were practicable, in the nature of things, to make out the definition of the case, so as to bring it under the constitution judicially, upon an original suit. But until the plaintiff can control the defendant in his pleadings, I see no practical mode of determining when the case does occur, otherwise than by permitting the cause to advance until the case for which the constitution provides shall actually arise. If it never occurs, there can be nothing to complain of; and such are the provisions of the twenty-fifth section. The cause might be transferred to the Circuit Court before an adjudication takes place; but I can perceive no earlier stage at which it can possibly be predicated of such a case, that it is one within the constitution; nor any possible necessity for transferring it then, or until the Court has acted upon it to the prejudice of the claims of the United States. It is not, therefore, because Congress may not vest an original jurisdiction, where they can constitutionally vest in the Circuit Courts appellate jurisdiction, that I object to this general grant of the right to sue; but, because that the peculiar nature of this jurisdiction is such, as to render it impossible to exercise it in a strictly original form, and because the principle of a possible occurrence of a question as a ground of jurisdiction, is transcending the bounds of the constitution, and placing it on a ground which will admit of an enormous accession, if not an unlimited assumption, of jurisdiction.
But, dimissing the question of possibility, which, I must think, would embrace every other case as well as those to which this Bank is a party, in what sense can it be predicated of this case, that it is one arising under a law of the United States? It cannot be denied, that jurisdiction of this suit in equity could not be entertained, unless the Court could have had jurisdiction of the action of trespass, which this injunction was intended to anticipate. And, in fact, there is no question, that the Bank here maintains, that the right to sue extends to common trespass, as well as to contracts, or any other cause of action. But suppose trespass in the common form instituted; the declaration is general, and the defendant pleads not guilty, and goes to trial. Where is the feature in such a cause that can give the Court jurisdiction? What question arises under a law of the United States? or what question that must not be decided exclusively upon the lex loci, upon State laws? Take also the case of a contract, and in what sense can it be correctly predicated of that, that in common with every other act of the Bank, it arises out of the law that incorporates it? May it not with equal propriety be asserted, that all the crimes and all the controversies of mankind, arise out of the fiat that called their progenitor into existence? It is not because man was created, that he commits a trespass, or incurs a debt; but because, being indued with certain faculties and propensities, he is led by an appropriate motive to the one action or the other. Sound philosophy attributes effects to their proximate causes. It is but pursuing the grade of creation from one step to another, to deduce the acts of this Bank from State law, or even divine law, with as much correctness as from the law of its immediate creation. Its contracts arise under its own acts, and not under a law of the United States; so far from it, indeed, that their effect, their construction, their limitation, their concoction, are all the creatures of the respective State laws in which they originate. There is a satisfactory illustration of the distinction between contracts which draw their existence from statutes, and those which originate in the acts of man, afforded by this act of incorporation itself. It will be unnecessary to look beyond it. The action of debt before alluded to, given by the ninth clause of the seventh section, against the directors, to any one who will sue, is one of those factitious or statute contracts which exist in, and expire with, the statute that creates it. Not so with the ordinary contracts of the Bank; upon the expiration of the charter, they would be placed in the state of the credits of an intestate before administration; there is no one to sue for them; but the moral obligation would remain, and a Court of equity would enforce it against their debtors, at the suit of the individual stockholders. Nor would this be on the principle of contracts executed under power of attorney; for, the law applicable to principals would govern every question in such causes. All the acts of the corporation are executed in their own right, and not in the right of another. A personal existence, with all its incidents, is given to them, and it is in right of that existence that they are capable of acting, and do act.
Nor, indeed, in another point of view, is it strictly predicable of this Bank, that its acts arise out of, because its existence is drawn from, a law of the United States. It is because it is incorporated, not because incorporated by a law of the United States, that it is made capable of exercising certain powers incidentally, and of being vested with others expressly. The same effects would follow, if incorporated by any other competent legislative power. The law of the United States creates the Bank, and the common law, or State law more properly, takes it up and makes it what it is. Who can deny, that in many points the incidents to such an institution may vary in different States, although its existence be derived from the general government? It is the case with the natural alien, when adopted into the national family. His rights, duties, powers, &c., receive always a shade from the lex loci of the State in which he fixes his domicil.
If this right to sue could be vested at all in the Bank, it is obvious that it must have been for one or more of three causes: 1. That a law of the United States incorporated it; 2. That a law of the United States vested in it the power to sue; or, 3. That the power to defend itself from trespasses as applicable to this case strictly, or to contract debts as applicable to the Georgia case, was conferred on it by a law of the United States expressly.
The first I have considered. On the second, no one would have the hardihood to contend, that such a grant has any efficacy, unless the suits come within the description of cases arising under a law of the United States, independently of the grant of the right to sue; and it only remains to add a few more remarks on the third ground.
Of the power to repel trespasses, and to enter into contracts, as mere incidents to its creation, I trust I have shown, that neither comes within the description of a case arising under a law of the United States. But where will we find, in the law in question, any express grant of power relative to either? The contracts on which the Georgia case is founded, are declared on as common promissory notes, payable to bearer. Now, as mere incidents, I have no doubt of an action being sustainable in a State Court in both cases. But if an express grant is relied on, as bringing this, or the case of a contract, within the description of "a case arising under a law of the United States," then I look through the law in vain for any express grant, either to make the contract, or repel the trespass. It is true, the sweeping terms with which the incorporating section concludes, import, that "by that name it shall and may be lawful for the Bank to do and execute all and singular the acts, matters, and things, which to them it shall and may appertain to do." But this contains no grant of either, since the inquiry, at last, must be into the incidents of such an institution, and, as incidents, they needed not these words to sustain them; nor could those words give any more force to the right. So that, at last, we are referred to the mere fact of its corporate existence, for the basis of either of the actions, or either of the powers here insisted on, as bringing this cause within the constitutional definition. Having a legal existence as an incorporated banking institution, it has a right to security in its possessions, and to the performance of its contracts; but that right will be precisely the same, if incorporated by a State law, or even, as was held in the case of Terrett v. Taylor, if having a common law corporate existence. The common law, or the State law, is referred to by the law of the United States, as the source of these incidents, when it speaks of the acts which are appurtenant to it; and I know of no other law that can define them, or confer them as incidents. Suppose a naturalization act passed, which, after specifying the terms and conditions upon which an alien shall become a citizen, proceeds to declare, "that, as a citizen, he shall lawfully do and execute all and singular the acts, matters, and things, which to 'a citizen,' or 'to him as a citizen,' it shall and may appertain to do," would not these words be a mere nullity? His new existence, and the relations with the society into which he is introduced, that grow out of that connexion, give him the right to defend his property or his existence, (as in this case,) and to enter into and enforce those contracts which, as an alien, he would have been precluded from. He was no more a citizen, without an act of Congress, than this was a Bank. Finally, after the most attentive consideration of this cause, I cannot help thinking, that this idea of taking jurisdiction upon an hypothesis, or even of assuming original, unlimited jurisdiction, of all questions arising under a law of the United States, involves some striking inconsistencies. A Court may take cognizance of a question in a cause, and enter a judgment upon it, and yet not have jurisdiction of the cause itself. Such are all questions of jurisdiction, of which every Court, however limited its jurisdiction, must have cognizance in every cause brought before it. So, also, I see not why, upon the same principle, a law expressly violating the constitution, may not be made the groundwork of a transfer of jurisdiction. Cases may arise, and would arise, under such a law; and if the simple existence, or possibility of such a case, is a sufficient ground of jurisdiction, and that ground sufficient to transfer the whole case to the federal judiciary, the least that can be said of it is, that it was not a case within the mischief intended to be obviated by the constitution. . . .
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 79
The University of Chicago Press
Easy to print version.