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placed upon a particular clause by Congress the words have been considered as having a meaning different from that given to them by the common law.
Ex parte Wilson, 114 U. S. 422.
U. S. v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U. S. 654.
," "ex post facto,” “ bill of attainder,” “ habeas
, " " unreasonable searches and seizures," " presentment,” “indictment,” “infamous crime,” “right to be informed of the nature
" of the accusation,” and “twice put in jeopardy,” is a recognition of the maxims and essential principles of the common law, and resort may and should be had thereto to ascertain their true meaning. But in holding that an indictment or presentment is not essential to "due process of law," under the fourteenth amendment, when applied to prosecutions for felonies in State courts, it has been said:
In this country written constitutions were deemed essential to protect the rights and liberties of the people against the encroachments of power delegated to their governments, and the provisions of Magna Charta were incorporated into the Bill of Rights. They were limitations upon all of the powers of gov. ernment, legislative as well as executive and judicial.
Hurtado v. California, 110 U. S. 531.
Gompers v. U. S., 233 U. S. 610. In view of existing law.—The scope and effect of many of the provisions of the Constitution are best ascertained by bearing in mind what the law was at the time the Constitution and the amendments were adopted and ratified, not as reaching out for new guaranties but as securing such as the law then recognized. The requirement of full faith and credit is to be read and interpreted in the light of wellestablished principles of justice protected by other constitutional provisions which it was never intended to modify or override. The provision that an accused person shall “ be confronted with the witnesses against him” is not infringed by permitting the testimony of witnesses sworn upon a former trial, since deceased, to be read against him. The admission of dying declarations is also an exception to this rule. These exceptions were well established before the adoption of the Constitution and were not intended to be abrogated. Article I, section 10, provides that no State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws, and what were inspection laws was well understood at the time the Constitution was adopted.
Ex parte Wilson, 114 U. S. 422.
Liberal construction.—The Constitution is not to be interpreted with the strictness of a code of laws or of a private contract. The provisions for the protection of life, liberty, and property are to be largely and liberally construed in favor of the citizen. The provision in the fifth amendment that no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself, which has long been regarded as one of the sa feguards of civil liberty, should be applied in a broad spirit, to secure to the citizen immunity from every kind of self-accusation. A literal construction would deprive it of efficacy.
In speaking of the liberal construction to be given to restrictive or prohibitive provisions of the Constitution in the case of Fairbank v. United States (181 U. S. 283), the court said:
If powers granted are to be taken as broadly granted and as carrying with them authority to pass those acts which may be reasonably necessary to carry them into full execution; in other words, if the Constitution in its grant of powers is to be so construed that Congress shall be able to carry into full effect the powers granted, it is equally imperative that where prohibition or limitation is placed ypon the power of Congress that prohibition or limitation should be enforced in its spirit and to its entirety. It would be a strange rule of construction that language granting powers is to be liberally construed and that language of restriction is to be narrowly and technically construed. Especially is this true when in respect to grants of powers there is
the help found in the last clause of the eighth section, and no such helping clause in respect to prohibitions and limitations. The true spirit of constitutional interpre tation in both directions is to give full, liberal construction to the language, aiming ever to show fidelity to the spirit and purpose.
A liberal construction of the words and sentences should generally be given, and nice verbal criticism avoided, though it has been said that the phrase "obligation of contracts” should be construed strictly, and not be latitudinously extended to apply to obligations quasi ev contractus, implied contracts, or to obligations ex delicto, the obligation to pay damages.
Lane County v. Oregon, 7 Wall. 79.
Matter of Strauss, 197 U. S. 330. In Trade-Mark Cases (100 U. S. 94), the word “ writings” as used in Article I, section 8, clause 8, giving to Congress the power to secure to authors the exclusive right to their respective writings, is liberally construed to include original designs for engravings, prints, etc., but only such as are original and are founded in the creative powers of the mind.
In Pumpelly v. Green Bay Co. (13 Wall. 177), the court construes the word "taken " as used in the fifth amendment.
In the Dartmouth College Case (4 Wheat. 644), Chief Justice Marshall construes the word “contracts,” in Article I, section 10, to include the charter of an educational institution.
But a practical construction should be given. The clause providing that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself should be construed, as it was doubtless designed, to effect a practical and beneficent purpose—not necessarily to protect witnesses against every possible detriment which might happen to them from their testimony, nor to unduly impede, hinder,
or obstruct the administration of criminal justice. The limitations and ample provisions of the Constitution should not be extended so far as to destroy the necessary powers of the States or prevent their efficient exercise.
In construing the fourteenth amendment, and holding that a Texas statute directed solely against railroad companies for permitting Johnson grass or Russian thistle to go to seed upon their right of way was not a clear violation of the equal protection clause, Justice Holmes said: Great constitutional provisions must be administered with caution. Some
must be allowed for the joints of the machine, and it mus rememb that legislatures are ultimate guardians of the liberties and welfare of the people in quite as great a degree as the courts.
Brown v. Walker, 161 U. S. 591.
Missouri, etc., R. Co. v. May, 194 U. S. 270. The rule that the contemporaneous construction of a statute by those charged with its execution should not be disregarded except for cogent reasons, and unless it be clear that such construction is erroneous, applies with even greater force in the construction of a provision of the Constitution long and continuously acted upon. Contemporary interpretation of the Constitution is of the most forcible nature, and entitled to great weight, and the practice and acquiescence under it for a period of years afford an irresistible answer to objection and fix the construction.
U. S. v. Midwest Oil Co., 236 U. S. 459.
Laura, 114 U. S. 416.
Butte City Water Co. v. Baker, 196 U. S. 127. Especially in cases of doubt, the solemn, deliberate, well-considered, and long-settled decisions of the judiciary, and the quiet assent of the people to an unbroken and unvarying practice, ought to conclude the action of courts in favor of a principle so established, even when the individual opinions of the judges would be different were the questions res integra.
Missouri v. Illinois, 180 U. S. 219.
Veazie Bank v. Fenno, 8 Wall. 541. Objects of the grant of power to the General Government. When investigating the nature and extent of the powers conferred by the Constitution upon the General Government, it is indispensable to keep in view the objects for which these powers were granted. If the general purpose of the instrument is ascertained, the language of its provisions must be construed with reference to that purpose and
so as to subserve it. But the construction and application of a provision are not restricted by and to the purpose of its adoption. The fourteenth amendment is not limited to legislation touching members of the enfranchised race. The thirteenth amendment had its origin in the previous existence of African slavery. But the generality of its language makes its prohibition apply to slavery of white men as well as to that of black men; and also to serfage, vassalage, villenage, peonage, and every other form of compulsory labor. The provision of the Constitution prohibiting legislation by States impairing the obligation of contracts had its origin in the existence of tender laws, appraisement laws, stay laws, and installment laws passed by the States soon after the Revolution, when their finances were embarrassed and their people overwhelmed with debts. These laws prostrated all private credit and led to the adoption of the prohibition by which such legislation was forever prevented. But in its construction the provision has not been limited to mere commercial contracts.
Virginia v. Tennessee, 148 U. S. 519.
Packet Co. v. Keokuk, 95 U. S. 87.
It will, indeed, probably be found, when we look to the character of the Constitution itself, the objects which it seeks to attain, the powers which it confers, the duties which it enjoins, and the rights which it secures, as well as the known historical fact that many of its provisions were matters of compromise of opposing interests and opinions, that no uniform rule of interpretation can be applied to it which may not allow, even if it does not positively demand, many modifications in its actual application to particular clauses. And, perhaps, the safest rule of interpretation after all will be found to be to look to the nature and objects of the particular powers, duties, and rights, with all the lights and aids of contemporary history; and to give to the words of each just such operation and force, consistent with their legitimate meaning, as may fairly secure and attain the ends proposed.
If by one mode of interpretation the right must become shadowy and unsubstantial, and without any remedial power adequate to the end, and by another mode it will attain its just end and secure its manifest purpose, it would seem, upon principles of reasoning, absolutely irresistible, that the latter ought to prevail.
Operation of Constitution. The United States Constitution is supreme over all the departments of the National Government, and, to the extent of the powers delegated, over all who made themselves parties to it, States as well as persons; it is supreme over the people of the United States aggregately and in their separate sovereignties. It constitutes a part of the law of each State, and is binding upon the people and authorities of the State.
Dodge v. Woolsey, 18 How. 347.
To meet new conditions.—That the Constitution was adopted and is adapted to meet new conditions and circumstances, it was said in an early case by Justice Story:
The Constitution unavoidably deals in general language. It did not suit the purposes of the people, in framing this great charter of our liberties, to provide for minute specifications of its powers or to declare the means by which those powers should be carried into execution. It was foreseen that this would be a perilous and difficult, if not an impracticable, task. The instrument was not intended to provide merely for the exigencies of a few years, but was to endure through a long lapse of ages, the events of which were locked up in the inscrutable purposes of Providence. It could not be foreseen what new changes and modifications of power might be indispensable to effectuate the general objects of the charter, and restrictions and specifications which at the present might seem salutary might in the end prove the overthrow of the system itself. Hence its powers are expressed in general terms, leaving to the legislature from time to time to adopt its own means to effectuate legitimate objects and to mold and model the exercise of its powers as its own wisdom and the public interest should require.
Martin v. Hunter, 1 Wheat. 326. And it has been further said:
The Constitution is a written instrument. As such its meaning does not alter. That which it meant when adopted it means now. Being a grant of powers to a government, its language is general, and as changes come in social and political life it embraces in its grasp all new conditions which are within the scope of the powers in terms conferred. In other words, while the powers granted do not change, they apply from generation to generation to all things to which they are in their nature applicable. This in no manner abridges the fact of its changeless nature and meaning. Those things which are within its grants of power, as those grants were understood when made, are still within them, and those things not within them remain still excluded.
South Carolina v. U. S., 199 U. S. 448.
In re Debs, 158 U. S. 591. Historical origin.—The historical origin may be considered, and historical evidence may be resorted to as aids in the construction and application of words and provisions. What went before the adoption of the Constitution may be resorted to for the purpose of throwing light on its provisions. In placing a construction upon an article of doubtful meaning, the safe way is to read its language in connection with the known condition of affairs out of which the occasion for its adoption may have arisen, and then to construe it in a way, so far as is reasonably possible, to forward the known purpose or object for which it was adopted.
Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U. S. 78.
Kendall v. U. S., 12 Pet. 524. Debates in Convention and Congress.—The views of the particular Members or the course of proceedings in the Convention can not control the fair meaning and general scope of the Constitution as it was finally framed, and what individual Senators or Representatives