McPherson v. Blacker
146 U.S. 1 (1892)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

McPherson v. Blacker, 146 U.S. 1 (1892)

McPherson v. Blacker

No. 1170

Argued Oct. 11, 1892

Decided Oct. 17, 1892

146 U.S. 1

Syllabus

The validity of a state law providing for the appointment of electors of President and Vice President having been drawn in question before the highest tribunal of a state as repugnant to the laws and Constitution of the United States, and that court having decided in favor of its validity, this Court has jurisdiction to review the judgment under Rev.Stat. § 709. Under the second clause of Article II of the Constitution, the legislatures of the several states have exclusive power to direct the manner in which the electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed.

Such appointment may be made by the legislatures directly, or by popular vote in districts, or by general ticket, as may be provided by the legislature.

If the terms of the clause left the question of power in doubt, contemporaneous and continuous subsequent practical construction has determined the question as above stated.

The second clause of Article II of the Constitution was not amended by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and they do not limit the power of appointment to the particular manner pursued at the time of the adoption of these amendments or secure to every male inhabitant of a state, being a citizen of the United States, the right from the time of his majority to vote for presidential electors.

A state law fixing a date for the meeting of electors differing from that prescribed by the act of Congress is not thereby wholly invalidated, but the date may be rejected and the law stand.

Page 146 U. S. 2

William McPherson, Jr., Jay A. Hubbell, J. Henry Carstens, Charles E. Hiscock, Otto Ihling, Philip T. Colgrove, Conrad G. Swensburg, Henry A. Haigh, James H. White, Fred. Slocum, Justus S. Stearns, John Millen, Julius T. Hannah, and J. H. Comstock filed their petition and affidavits in the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan on May 2, 1892, as nominees for presidential electors, against Robert R. Blacker, Secretary of State of Michigan, praying that the court declare the Act of the legislature approved May 1, 1891, Act No. 50, Public Acts of Michigan of 1891, entitled

"An act to provide for the election of electors of President and Vice-President of the United States, and to repeal all other acts and parts of acts in conflict herewith,"

void and of no effect, and that a writ of mandamus be directed to be issued to the said Secretary of State commanding him to cause to be delivered to the sheriff of each county in the state, between the first of July and the first of September, 1892,

"a notice in writing that at the next general election in this state, to be held on Tuesday, the 8th day of November, 1892, there will be chosen (among other officers to be named in said notice) as many electors of President and Vice-President of the United States as this state may be entitled to elect senators and representatives in the Congress."

The statute of Michigan (Howell's Ann.Stats. of Michigan, 133, c. 9) provided:

"The secretary of the state shall, between the first day of July and the first day of September preceding a general election, direct and cause to be delivered to the sheriff of each county in this state a notice in writing that at the next general election, there will be chosen as many of the following officers as are to be elected at such general election, viz.: a governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, auditor general, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, commissioner of state land office, members of the state board of education, electors of President and Vice-President of the United States, and a representative in Congress for the district to which each of such counties shall belong."

A rule to show cause having been issued, the respondent, as

Page 146 U. S. 3

Secretary of State, answered the petition, and denied that he had refused to give the notice thus required, but he said

"that it has always been the custom in the office of the secretary of state, in giving notices under said section 147, to state in the notice the number of electors that should be printed on the ticket in each voting precinct in each county in this state, and following such custom with reference to such notice, it is the intention of this respondent in giving notice under section 147 to state in said notice that there will be elected one presidential elector at large and one district presidential elector and two alternate presidential electors, one for the elector at large and one for the district presidential elector, in each voting precinct, so that the election may be held under and in accordance with the provisions of Act No. 50 of the Public Acts of the State of Michigan of 1891."

By an amended answer, the respondent claimed the same benefit as if he had demurred.

Relators relied in their petition upon various grounds as invalidating Act No. 50 of the Public Acts of Michigan of 1891, and, among them, that the act was void because in conflict with clause two of section one of Article II of the Constitution of the United States, and with the Fourteenth Amendment to that instrument, and also in some of its provisions in conflict with the Act of Congress of February 3, 1887, entitled

"An act to fix the day for the meeting of the electors of President and Vice-President and to provide for and regulate the counting of the votes for President and Vice-President, and the decision of questions arising thereon."

The Supreme Court of Michigan unanimously held that none of the objections urged against the validity of the act were tenable; that it did not conflict with clause two of section one of Article II of the Constitution, or with the Fourteenth Amendment thereof, and that the law was only inoperative so far as in conflict with the law of Congress in a matter in reference to which Congress had the right to legislate. The opinion of the court will be found reported, in advance of the official series, in 52 N.W. 469.

Judgment was given, June 17, 1892, denying the writ of

Page 146 U. S. 4

mandamus, whereupon a writ of error was allowed to this Court.

The October term, 1892, commenced on Monday, October 10, and on Tuesday, October 11, the first day upon which the application could be made, a motion to advance the case was submitted by counsel, granted at once in view of the exigency disclosed upon the face of the papers, and the cause heard that day. The attention of the court having been called to other provisions of the election laws of Michigan than those supposed to be immediately involved (Act No. 190, Public Acts of Michigan 1891, pp. 258, 263), the Chief Justice, on Monday, October 17, announced the conclusions of the court and directed the entry of judgment affirming the judgment of the Supreme Court of Michigan, and ordering the mandate to issue at once, it being stated that this was done because immediate action under the state statutes was apparently required and might be affected by delay, but it was added that the court would thereafter file an opinion stating fully the grounds of the decision.

Act No. 50 of the Public Acts of 1891 of Michigan is as follows:

"An act to provide for the election of electors of President and Vice-President of the United States, and to repeal all other acts and parts of acts in conflict herewith."

"Section 1. The people of the State of Michigan enact that at the general election next preceding the choice of President and Vice-President of the United States, there shall be elected as many electors of President and Vice-President as this state may be entitled to elect of senators and representatives in Congress in the following manner, that is to say, there shall be elected by the electors of the districts hereinafter defined one elector of President and Vice-President of the United States in each district, who shall be known and designated on the ballot, respectively, as 'eastern district elector of President and Vice-President of the United States at large,' and 'western district elector of President and Vice-President of the United States at large.' There shall also be elected, in like manner, two alternate electors of President and

Page 146 U. S. 5

Vice-President, who shall be known and designated on the ballot as 'eastern district alternate elector of President and Vice-President of the United States at large' and 'western district alternate elector of President and Vice-President of the United States at large,' for which purpose the first, second, sixth, seventh, eighth, and tenth congressional districts shall compose one district, to be known as the 'Eastern Electoral District,' and the third, fourth, fifth, ninth, eleventh, and twelfth congressional districts shall compose the other district, to be known as the 'Western Electoral District.' There shall also be elected, by the electors in each congressional district into which the state is or shall be divided, one electors of President and Vice-President, and one alternate elector of President and Vice-President, the ballots for which shall designate the number of the congressional district and the persons to be voted for therein, as 'district elector' and 'alternate district elector' of President and Vice-President of the United States, respectively."

"SEC. 2. The counting, canvassing, and certifying of the votes cast for said electors at large and their alternates, and said district electors and their alternates, shall be done as near as may be in the same manner as is now provided by law for the election of electors or President and Vice-President of the United States."

"SEC. 3. The Secretary of State shall prepare three lists of the names of the electors and the alternate electors, procure thereto the signature of the governor, affix the seal of the state to the same, and deliver such certificates thus signed and sealed to one of the electors, on or before the first Wednesday of December next following said general election. In case of death, disability, refusal to act, or neglect to attend, by the hour of twelve o'clock at noon of said day, of either of said electors at large, the duties of the office shall be performed by the alternate electors at large, that is to say: the eastern district alternate elector at large shall supply the place of the eastern district elector at large, and the western district alternate elector at large shall supply the place of the western district elector at large. In like case, the alternate congressional

Page 146 U. S. 6

district elector shall supply the place of the congressional district elector. In case two or more persons have an equal and the highest number of votes for any office created by this act as canvassed by the board of state canvassers, the legislature in joint convention shall choose one of said persons to fill such office, and it shall be the duty of the governor to convene the legislature in special session for such purpose immediately upon such determination by said board of state canvassers."

"SEC. 4. The said electors of President and Vice-President shall convene in the Senate chamber at the capital of the state at the hour of twelve o'clock at noon, on the first Wednesday of December immediately following their election, and shall proceed to perform the duties of such electors as required by the Constitution and the laws of the United States. The alternate electors shall also be in attendance, but shall take no part in the proceedings, except as herein provided."

"SEC. 5. Each of said electors and alternate electors shall receive the sum of five dollars for each day's attendance at the meetings of the electors as above provided, and five cents per mile for the actual and necessary distance traveled each way in going to and returning from said place of meeting, the same to be paid by the state treasurer upon the allowance of the board of state auditors."

"SEC. 6. All acts and parts of acts in conflict with the provisions of this act are hereby repealed."

Approved May 1, 1891.

Section 211 of Howell's Annotated Statutes of Michigan (volume 1, c. 9, p. 145) reads:

"For the purpose of canvassing and ascertaining the votes given for electors of President and Vice-President of the United States, the board of state canvassers shall meet on the Wednesday next after the third Monday of November, or on such other day before that time as the Secretary of State shall appoint, and the powers, duties, and proceedings of said board, and of the Secretary of State, in sending for, examining, ascertaining, determining, certifying, and recording the votes and results of the election of such electors, shall be in all respects, as near as may be, as hereinbefore provided in

Page 146 U. S. 7

relation to sending for, examining, ascertaining, determining, certifying, and recording the votes and results of the election of state officers."

Section 240 of Howell's Statutes, in force prior to May 1, 1891, provided:

"At the general election next preceding the choice of President and Vice-President of the United States, there shall be elected by general ticket as many electors of President and Vice-President as this state may be entitled to elect of senators and representatives in Congress."

The following are sections of Article VIII of the Constitution of Michigan:

"SEC. 4. The secretary of state, state treasurer, and commissioner of the state land office shall constitute a board of state auditors, to examine and adjust all claims against the state, not otherwise provided for by general law. They shall constitute a board of state canvassers, to determine the result of all elections for governor, lieutenant governor, and state officers, and of such other officers as shall by law be referred to them."

"SEC. 5. In case two or more persons have an equal and the highest number of votes for any office, as canvassed by the board of state canvassers, the legislature in joint convention shall choose one of said persons to fill such office. When the determination of the board of state canvassers is contested, the legislature in joint convention shall decide which person is elected."

1 Howell's Ann.Stats.Mich. 57.

Reference was also made in argument to the act of Congress of February 3, 1887, to fix the day for the meeting of the electors of President and Vice-President, and to provide for and regulate and counting of the votes. 24 Stat. 373.

Page 146 U. S. 22

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