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any instance denied, or even drawn into question. Before Satterlee becanic entitled to any part of the land in dispute under Wharton, he had voluntarily entered into a contract with Matthewson, by which he became his tenant, under a stipulation that either of the parties might put an end to the tenancy at the termination of any one year. Under this new contract, which, if it was ever valid, was still subsisting and in full force at the time when Satterlee acquired the title of Wharton, he exposed himself to the operation of a certain principle of the common law, which estopped him from controverting the title of his landlord, by setting up a better title to the land in himself, or one outstanding in some third person.
It is true that the supreme court of the state decided, in the year 1825, that this contract, being entered into with a person claiming under a Connecticut title, was void ; so that the principle of law which has been mentioned did not apply to it. But the legislature afterwards declared by the act under examination, that contracts of that nature were valid, and that the relation of landlord and tenant should exist, and be held effectual, as well in contracts of that description, as in those between other citizens of the state.
Now this law may be censured, as it has been, as an unwise and unjust exercise of legislative power; as retrospective in its operation ; as the exercise, by the legislature, of a judicial function ; and as creating a contract between parties where none previously existed. All this may be admitted; but the question which we are now considering is, Does it impair the obligation of the contract between the state and Wharton, or his alienee ? Both the decision of the supreme court, in 1825, and this act, operate not upon that contract, but upon the subsequent contract between Satterlee and Matthewson. No question arose, or was decided, to disparage the title of Wharton, or of Satterlee as his vendee. So far from it, that the judge stated, in his charge to the jury, that, if the transactions between John F. Sat
terlee and Elisha Satterlee were fair, then the elder title of the defendant must prevail, and he would be entitled to a verdict.
We are, then, to inquire whether the obligation of the contract between Satterlee and Matthewson was impaired by this statute. The objections urged at the bar, and the arguments in support of them, apply to that contract, if to either. It is that contract which the act declared to be valid, in opposition to the decision of the supreme court; and admitting the correctness of that decision, it is not easy to perceive how a law, which gives validity to a void contract, can be said to impair the obligation of that contract. Should a statute declare, contrary to the general principles of law, that contracts founded upon an illegal or immoral consideration, whether in existence at the time of passing the statute, or which might hereafter be entered into, should nevertheless be valid and binding upon the parties; all would admit the retrospective character of such an enactment, and that the effect of it was to create a contract between parties where none had previously existed. But it surely cannot be contended, that to create a contract, and to destroy or impair one, mean the same thing.
If the effect of the statute in question be not to impair the obligation of either of those contracts, and none other appear upon this record, is there any other part of the constitution of the United States to which it is repugnant? It is said to be retrospective. Be it so; but retrospective laws, which do not impair the obligation of contracts, or partake of the character of ex post facto laws, are not condemned or forbidden by any part of that instrument.
All the other objections which have been made to this statute admit of the same answer. There is nothing in the constitution of the United States which forbids the legislature of a state to exercise judicial functions. The case of Ogden v. Blackledge came into this court from the circuit court of the United States, and not from the supreme court of North Carolina ; and the question, whether the act of 1799, which
partook of a judicial character, was repugnant to the constitution of the United States, did not arise, and, consequently, was not decided. It may safely be affirmed, that no case has ever been decided in this court, upon a writ of error to a state court, which affords the slightest countenance to this objection.
The objection, however, which was most pressed upon the court, and relied upon by the counsel for the plaintiff in error, was, that the effect of this act was to divest rights which were vested by law in Satterlee. There is certainly no part of the constitution of the United States which applies to a state law of this description ; nor are we aware of any decision of this, or of any circuit court, which has condemned such a law upon this ground, provided its effect be not to impair the obligation of a contract; and it has been shown, that the act in question has no such effect upon either of the contracts which have been before mentioned.
In the case of Fletcher v. Peck, it was stated by the chief justice, that it might well be doubted, whether the nature of society and of government do not prescribe some limits to the legislative power; and he asks, “ if any be prescribed, where are they to be found, if the property of an individual, fairly and honestly acquired, may be seized without compensation ?” It is nowhere intimated in that opinion, that a state statute, which divests a vested right, is repugnant to the constitution of the United States; and the case in which that opinion was pronounced was removed into this court by writ of error, not from the supreme court of a state, but from a circuit court.
The strong expressions of the court upon this point, in the cases of Vanhorne's Lessee v. Dorrance, and The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel v. Wheeler, were founded expressly on the constitution of the respective states in which those cases were tried.
We do not mean in any respect to impugn the correctness of the sentiments expressed in those cases, or to question the cor
rectness of a circuit court sitting to administer the laws of a state, in giving to the constitution of that state a paramount authority over a legislative act passed in violation of it. We intend to decide no more than that the statute objected to in this case is not repugnant to the constitution of the United States, and that, unless it be so, this court has no authority, under the twenty-fifth section of the judiciary act, to reëxamine and to reverse the judgment of the supreme court of Pennsylvania in the present case.
That judgment, therefore, must be affirmed with costs. 2 Pet. 414.