Gambar halaman

Opinion of the Court.

the 4th day of November, 1890, sent a message from his residence to Tullis & Co., who were in the same business in Eufaula, in the State of Alabama, offering to sell certain cotton on terms named in the message, and asked to have an answer that night. Tullis & Co, received the message on that day and at once sent a message in reply accepting the offer of the plaintiff upon certain conditions. This message was received at Blakely late in the evening of November 4, but was not delivered until the morning of November 5. The plaintiff alleged that the delivery was not made with due diligence, and the result of the delay in the delivery of the message was as he stated, the loss of the sale of the cotton upon the terms mentioned in the message. He therefore brought his action to recover both the penalty and the actual damages which he alleged he had sustained by reason of this failure on the part of the company to deliver the message with due diligence. By the decision of the Supreme Court the claim for damages was not sustained, and the judgment given was solely for the penalty.

The only question, therefore, before this court is whether the statute of the State of Georgia, providing for the recovery of such penalty, is a valid exercise of the power of the State in relation to messages by telegraph from points outside and directed to some point within the State of Georgia.

The plaintiff in error insists that the act in question is a violation of that portion of section 8 of Article I of the Federal Constitution, which empowers Congress “ to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States and with the Indian tribes.” The validity of the statute is based upon the general power of the State to enact such laws in relation to persons and property within its borders as may promote the public health, the public morals and the general prosperity and safety of its inhabitants. This power is somewhat generally described as the police power of the State, a detailed definition of which has been said to be difficult, if not impossible to give. However extensive the power may be, it cannot encroach upon the powers of the Federal government in regard to rights granted or secured by the Federal

upinion of the Court.

Constitution. New Orleans Gas Co. v. Louisiana Light Co., 115 U. S. 650, 661; Walling v. Michigan, 116 U. S. 446, 460; Gulf, Colorado & Santa Railway v. Hefley, 158 U. S. 98.

It has been settled by the adjudications of this court that telegraph lines, when extending through different States, are instruments of commerce which are protected by the above clause in the Federal Constitution, and that the messages passing over such lines from one State to another constitute a portion of commerce itself. Pensacola Telegraph Co. v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 96 U. S. 1; Telegraph Co. v. Texas, 105 U. S. 460; Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Pendle ton, 122 U. S. 347. Such messages come within the protecting clause of the Constitution just quoted, and if the statute in question can be construed as regulating commerce between the States, the statute would be invalid on that account.

The Congress of the United States, by the act of July 24, 1866, c. 230, 14 Stat. 221, legislated upon the subject of telegraph companies. That legislation has become a part of the United States Revised Statutes, SS 5263 to 5269, both inclusive. The sections referred to do not, however, touch the subject-matter of the delivery of messages as provided for in the state statute. The provision in the section of the Revised Statutes as to the precedence to be given to the messages of officers of the government in relation to their official business are not inconsistent with or in any manner opposed to the provisions of the Georgia act, nor are they upon the same subject within the meaning of the rule which permits state legislation in some instances only until Congress shall have spoken.

The company now contends that under the cases decided in this court, some of which are above cited, and by reason of the act of Congress just mentioned, it is so far within the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution as to be protected from any state legislation of the character of the act in question. It is urged that although there is no statute of Congress expressly providing a penalty for a failure to deliver telegraphic messages impartially and with due diligence, yet, still the very fact of the absence of such legisla

Opinion of the Court.

tion is equivalent to a declaration by Congress that no penalty should be affixed, and that the company should bo left free to pursue its business untrammelled by any state legislation upon the subject.

In regard to those matters relating to commerce which are not of a nature to be affected by locality, but which necessarily ought to be the same over the whole country, it has been frequently held that the silence of Congress upon such a subject, over which it had unquestioned jurisdiction, was equivalent to a declaration that in those respects commerce should be free and unregulated by any statutory enactment. Welton v. Missouri, 91 U. S. 275, 282; Hall v. De Cuir, 95 U. S. 485, 490. The matters upon which the silence of Congress is equivalent to affirmative legislation are national in their character, and such as to fairly require uniformity of regulation upon the subject matter involved affecting all the States alike. Mobile County v. Kimball, 102 U. S. 691.

In Covington &c. Bridge Co. v. Kentucky, 154 U. S. 204, 209, Mr. Justice Brown, in delivering the opinion of the court, said: “The adjudications of this court with respect to the power of the State over the general subject of commerce are divisible into three classes: First, those in which the power of the State is exclusive; second, those in which the States may act in the absence of legislation by Congress; third, those in which the action of Congress is exclusive and the State cannot interfere at all." On page 211 of the report are cited many cases as coming within the second class, among which are laws for the regulation of pilots; for quarantine and inspection; for policing harbors; improving navigable channels; regulating wharves, piers and docks ; constructing dams and bridges across navigable waters of a State; and also laws for the establishment of ferries. In relation to the power of Congress to regulate commerce in cases of the second class, it is said that it is not its mere existence but its exercise by Congress which may be incompatible with the exercise of the same power by States, and that the States may legislate in the absence of Congressional regulations. Sturges v. Crowninshield, 4 Wheat. 122, 193. When the sub

Opinion of the Court.

jects in regard to which the laws are enacted, instead of being of a local nature affecting interstate commerce but incidentally, are national in their character, then the non-action of Congress indicates its will that such commerce shall be free and untrammelled. It has been held that it is not every enactment which may incidentally affect commerce and the persons engaged in it that necessarily constitutes a regulation of commerce within the meaning of the Constitution. Sherlock V. Alling, 93 U. S. 99; State Tax on Railway Gross Receipts, 15 Wall. 284; Mobile County v. Kimball, 102 U. S. 691; Smith v. Alabama, 124 U. S. 465. A state statute was held valid in this last cited case, which provided for an examination of engineers of locomotives by a state board of examiners, and it was applied to an engineer engaged in running a locomotive on one continuous trip from Mobile in Alabama to Corinth in Mississippi. It was held to be a valid police regulation.

Legislation which is a mere aid to commerce may be enacted by a State, although at the same time it may incidentally affect commerce itself. Mobile County v. Kimball, 102 U. S., already cited.

On the other hand, a state statute which only assumed to regulate those engaged in interstate commerce, while passing through the particular State, has been held void because it in effect and necessarily regulated and controlled the conduct of such persons throughout the entire voyage, which stretched through several States. Such is the case of Hall v. De Cuir, 95 U. S. 485, 489.

The statute in that case, after providing that common carriers of passengers should have the right to refuse certain classes of undesirable and improper persons passage on their vehicles, gave the power to carriers to expel such persons after admission, and also gave them power to expel all who should commit any act in violation of the rules and regulations prescribed for the management of the business of the carrier after such rules and regulations should have been made known, “provided such rules and regulations make no discrimination on account of race or color;" and the statute also

Opinion of the Court.

probibited all persons engaged in the business of common carriers of passengers, except in the cases enumerated, from refusing admission to their conveyances or from expelling therefrom any person whatsoever. The plaintiff was a person of color and took passage upon the steamboat owned by the defendant's intestate on her trip up the river from New Orleans to Hermitage, both within the State of Louisiana. Being refused accommodations on account of her color in the cabin especially set apart for white persons, she brought an action under the provisions of the state act above referred to for the purpose of recovering damages sustained on account of such refusal. The defence set up was that the statute was inoperative and void as to the owner of the steam boat, because as to his business it was an attempt to regulate commerce among the States, and it was so held here. Although, in the case in question, the passage was taken from and to a point both of which were within the State of Louisiana, it was held that such fact was not material; that the effect of the statute necessarily was to regulate interstate commerce.

The court, speaking by Mr. Chief Justice Waite, said:

“While it purports only to control the carrier when engaged within the State, it must necessarily influence his conduct to some extent in the management of his business throughout his entire voyage. His disposition of passengers taken up and put down within the State, or taken up within to be carried without, cannot but affect in a greater or less degree those taken up without and brought within, and sometimes those taken up and put down without. A passenger in the cabin set apart for the use of whites without the State must, when the boat comes within, share the accommodations of that cabin with such colored persons as may come on board afterwards, if the law is enforced.

“It was to meet just such a case that the commercial clause in the Constitution was adopted. The river Mississippi passes through or along the borders of ten different States, and its tributaries reach many more. The commerce upon these waters is immense, and its regulation clearly a matter of national concern. If each State was at liberty to regulate the


« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »