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this we have the authority of Lord Coke, both in his Commentary on Littleton and in his Reports. A writ of error, then, is in the nature of a suit or action, when it is to restore the party who obtains it to the possession of anything which is withheld from him, not when its operation is entirely defensive.
(This rule will apply to writs of error from the courts of the United States, as well as to those writs in England.
Under the judiciary act the effect of a writ of error is simply to bring the record into court, and submit the judgment of the inferior tribunal to reëxamination. It does not in any manner act upon the parties; it acts only on the record. It removes the record into the supervising tribunal. Where, then, a state obtains a judgment against an individual, and the court rendering such judgment overrules a defence set up under the constitution or laws of the United States, the transfer of this record into the supreme court, for the sole purpose of inquiring whether the judgment violates the constitution or laws of the United States, can with no propriety, we think, be denominated a suit commenced or prosecuted against the state whose judgment is so far reëxamined. Nothing is demanded from the state. No claim against it of any description is asserted or prosecuted. The party is not to be restored to the possession of anything. Essentially, it is an appeal on a single point ; and the defendant who appeals from a judgment rendered against him is never said to commence or prosecute a suit against the plaintiff who has obtained the judgment. The writ of error is given rather than an appeal, because it is the more usual mode of removing suits at common law; and because, perhaps, it is more technically proper where a single point of law, and not the whole case, is to be reëxamined. But an appeal might be given, and might be so regulated, as to effect every purpose of a writ of error. The mode of removal is form, and not substance. Whether it be by writ of error, or appeal, no claim is asserted, no demand is made, by the original defendant; he only asserts the constitutional right to have his defence examined by that tribunal whose province it is to construe the constitution and laws of the union.
The only part of the proceeding which is in any manner personal is the citation. And what is the citation? It is simply notice to the opposite party that the record is transferred into another court, where he may appear or decline to appear, as his judgment or inclination may determine. As the party who has obtained a judgment is out of court, and may, therefore, not know that his cause is removed, common justice requires that notice of the fact should be given him. But this notice is not a suit, nor has it the effect of process. If the party does not choose to appear, he cannot be brought into court, nor is his failure to appear considered as a default. Judgment cannot be given against him for his non-appearance, but the judgment is to be reëxamined, and reversed, or affirmed, in like manner as if the party had appeared and argued his cause.
The point of view, in which this writ of error, with its citation, has been considered uniformly in the courts of the union, has been well illustrated by a reference to the course of this court in suits instituted by the United States. The universally received opinion is that no suit can be commenced or prosecuted against the United States; that the judiciary act does not authorize such suits. Yet writs of error, accompanied with citations, have uniformly issued for the removal of judgments in favor of the United States into a superior court, where they have, like those in favor of an individual, been reëxamined, and affirmed or reversed. It has never been suggested that such writ of error was a suit against the United States, and therefore not within the jurisdiction of the appellate court.
It is, then, the opinion of the court that the defendant, who removes a judgment rendered against him by a state court into this court, for the purpose of reëxamining the question, whether that judgment be in violation of the constitution or laws of the United States, does not commence or prosecute a suit against the state, whatever may be its opinion, where the effect of the writ may be to restore the party to the possession of a thing which he demands. But should we in this be mistaken, the error does not affect the case now before the court. If this writ of error be a suit in the sense of the eleventh amendment, it is not a suit commenced or prosecuted “by a citizen of another state, or by a citizen or subject of any foreign state.” It is not, then, within the amendment, but is governed entirely by the constitution as originally framed ; and we have already seen that in its origin the judicial power was extended to all cases arising under the constitution or laws of the United States, without respect to parties.
2d. The second objection to the jurisdiction of the court is that its appellate power cannot be exercised, in any case, over the judgment of a state court.
This objection is sustained chiefly by arguments drawn from the supposed total separation of the judiciary of a state from that of the union, and their entire independence of each other. The argument considers the federal judiciary as completely foreign to that of a state ; and as being no more connected with it, in any respect whatever, than the court of a foreign state. If this hypothesis be just, the argument founded on it is equally 80; but if the hypothesis be not supported by the constitution, the argument fails with it.
This hypothesis is not founded on any words in the constitution which might seem to countenance it, but on the unreasonableness of giving a contrary construction to words which seem to require it, and on the incompatibility of the application of the appellate jurisdiction to the judgments of state courts with that constitutional relation which subsists between the government of the union and the governments of those states which compose it.
Let this unreasonableness, this total incompatibility, be examined.
That the United States form, for many and for most important purposes, a single nation has not yet been denied. In war we are one people. In making peace we are one people. In all commercial regulations we are one and the same people. In many other respects the American people are one. And the government which is alone capable of controlling and managing their interests in all these respects is the government of the union. It is their government, and in that character they have no other. America has chosen to be, in many respects, and to many purposes, a nation; and for all these purposes her government is complete ; to all these objects it is competent. The people have declared that in the exercise of all powers given for these objects it is supreme. It can, then, in effecting these objects, legitimately control all individuals or governments within the American territory. The constitution and laws of a state, so far as they are repugnant to the constitution and laws of the United States, are absolutely void. These states are constituent parts of the United States. They are members of one great empire, — for some purposes sovereign, for some purposes subordinate.]
In a government so constituted is it unreasonable that the judicial power should be competent to give efficacy to the constitutional laws of the legislature? That department can decide on the validity of the constitution or law of a state, if it be repugnant to the constitution or to a law of the United States. Is it unreasonable that it should also be empowered to decide on the judgment of a state tribunal enforcing such unconstitutional law ? Is it so very unreasonable as to furnish a justification for controlling the words of the constitution ?
We think it is not. We think, that, in a government acknowledgedly supreme with respect to objects of vital interest to the nation, there is nothing inconsistent with sound reason, nothing incompatible with the nature of government, in making all its departments supreme, so far as respects those objects, and so far as is necessary to their attainment. The exercise of the appellate power over those judgments of the state tribunals, which may contravene the constitution or laws of the United States, is, we believe, essential to the attainment of those objects. ]
The propriety of entrusting the construction of the constitution, and laws made in pursuance thereof, to the judiciary of
the union, has not, we believe, as yet been drawn into question. ) It seems to be a corollary from this political axiom, that the federal courts should either possess exclusive jurisdiction in such cases, or a power to revise the judgment rendered in them by the state tribunals. If the federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction in all cases arising under the constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States ; and if a case of this description brought in a state court cannot be removed before judgment, nor revised after judgment, then the construction of the constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States is not confided particularly to their judicial department, but is confided equally to that department, and to the state courts, however they may be constituted. “Thirteen independent courts," says a very celebrated statesman, (and we have now more than twenty such courts, “ of final jurisdiction over the same causes, arising upon the same laws, is a hydra in government, from which nothing but contradiction and confusion can proceed.”
Dismissing the unpleasant suggestion that any motives, which may not be fairly avowed, or which ought not to exist, can ever influence a state or its courts, the necessity of uniformity, as well as correctness, in expounding the constitution and laws of the United States, would itself suggest the propriety of vesting in some single tribunal the power of deciding, in the last resort, all cases in which they are involved.
We are not restrained, then, by the political relations between the general and state governments, from construing the words of the constitution, defining the judicial power, in their true sense. We are not bound to construe them more restrictively than they naturally import.
They give to the supreme court appellate jurisdiction in all cases arising under the constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States.7 The words are broad enough to comprehend all cases of this description, in whatever court they may be decided. In expounding them we may be permitted to take into view those considerations to which courts have always allowed great weight in the exposition of laws.