Williams v. Norris
25 U.S. 117 (1827)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. Norris, 25 U.S. 12 Wheat. 117 117 (1827)

Williams v. Norris

25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 117

ERROR TO THE SUPREME

COURT OF TENNESSEE

Syllabus

Under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789, ch. 20, where the construction of any clause in the Constitution or any statute of the United States is drawn in question in any suit in a state court, the decision must be against the title or right set up by the party under such clause of the Constitution or statute or this Court has no appellate jurisdiction in the case.

It is not sufficient that the construction of the statute was drawn in question and that the decision was against the title of the party; it must appear that his title depended upon this statute.

Where in such a case the validity of a statute of any state is drawn in question upon the ground of its being repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the decision has been in favor of its validity, it is necessary to the exercise of the appellate jurisdiction of this Court that it should distinctly appear that the title or right of the party depended upon the statute.

The opinion of the court, or the reasons given for its judgment (unless in the case of instruction to the jury spread upon the record by a bill of exceptions) form no part of the record within the meaning of the above twenty-fifth section. Nor are they made a part of the record in Tennessee by the local law of that state requiring the judges to file their opinions in writing among the papers in the cause.

No orders in the state court after the removal of the record into this Court (not made by way of amendment, but introducing new matter) can be brought into the record here. The cause must be heard and determined upon the record as it stood when removed.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a writ of error to a judgment rendered in the

Page 25 U. S. 118

highest court for the State of Tennessee; consequently this Court can exercise no other jurisdiction in the case than is given by the 25th section of the Judiciary Act.

The counsel for the plaintiff in error contend 1st that an act of Congress has been drawn into question in the state court and that the decision has been against that act.

2d. That an act of the Legislature of Tennessee which impairs the obligation of a contract has been drawn into question and that the decision has been in favor of the party claiming under that act.

As preliminary to a consideration of these points it is necessary to inquire whether some additional papers which have been brought up by a certiorari constitute a part of the record.

These papers are the opinion of one of the judges which is supposed to have been delivered and filed as the opinion of the court that decided the cause and some proceedings which took place in the same court after the record had been removed into this Court by writ of error.

1. Is the opinion a part of the record?

As a general proposition, every gentleman of the profession will without hesitation answer this question in the negative. An opinion not given to the jury, pronounced after a verdict was rendered and consequently having no influence on that verdict, which states merely the course of reasoning which conducted the court to its judgment may explain the views and motives of the court, but does not form a part of its judgment and cannot constitute a part of the record.

The counsel for the plaintiff does not contend for the general principle, but insists that an act of the Legislature of Tennessee makes the opinion a part of the record in the courts of that state.

An act passed in the year 1809 "to establish circuit courts and a Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals" enacts

"That the judges of the Court of Errors and Appeals as well as the circuit court judges shall, as to the decisions on all material points, file their opinions in writing among the papers of the cause in which such opinion may be given. "

Page 25 U. S. 119

This sentence amounts to no more than a provision that the opinion of the judges shall appear and shall be preserved with the other papers; but does not make that opinion a part of what is technically denominated "the record," more than the other papers in the cause among which it is filed. Depositions, and exhibits of every description are papers in the cause and, in one sense of the word, form a part of the record. In some states they are recorded by direction of law. But in a jury cause they constitute no part of the record on which the judgment of an appellate court is to be exercised unless made a part of it by bill of exceptions or in some other manner recognized by law. But the plaintiff relies on the succeeding sentence as making the opinions of the judges a part of the record. That sentence is in these words:

"And where a writ of error shall be allowed to reverse the judgment of any circuit court in any cause, the clerk thereof shall send a transcript of the opinion of the judge to the Court of Errors and Appeals, with the balance of the record in the cause properly certified."

It is contended that the words "balance of the record" show the intention of the legislature that the opinion of the judge shall constitute a part of that which is technically the record.

The capacity of a legislature to control the proceedings of courts is not questioned, and if its will be unequivocally declared, that will must be obeyed, but in construing a law, implications are not to be drawn from careless expressions which would produce unreasonable results and subvert the usual course of legal proceedings. Can the opinion of the judge introduce any fact into the cause? Where a judgment is rendered on a special verdict, for example, can he, by an opinion filed ten days afterwards, control the facts found in that verdict? Or can he, by anything inserted in his opinion, warrant any legal inferences which the verdict itself would not justify, or in any manner change the legal effect of the finding? If the opinion cannot produce these results, for what purpose is it introduced into the record?

It can be introduced for no other purpose than to suggest to the superior court those arguments which might otherwise

Page 25 U. S. 120

escape its notice, which operated in producing the judgment and which, in the opinion of the legislature, ought to be weighed by the superior court before that judgment should be reversed or affirmed. If the judgment should be correct, although the reasoning, by which the mind of the judge was conducted to it should be deemed unsound, that judgment would certainly be affirmed in the superior court. We cannot therefore imply from the loose expression which has been cited so extraordinary a result as that the opinion of the court, filed after judgment as an argument should be considered as a part of what is technically denominated the record or should be a supplement to the verdict. In the present case, the opinion which was filed has been inspected, and seems to have been founded on a construction of the laws of the state without calling into question the Constitution of the United States or any act of Congress. This, however, is not relied on, because, as has been stated, the opinion has no other influence on the cause than it would have had if published in a book of reports.

If the court could have doubted on the proper construction of this section, the fact that it has never been understood in the courts of the state, in the sense for which the counsel for the plaintiff in error now contends would be conclusive on the question. It is also not entirely unworthy of remark that so much of the section as requires the judges of the circuit court to file their opinions in writing, was repealed before the judgment in this case was pronounced; consequently that part of the section which contains the words by which the doubt was created form no longer a part of the law.

The certiorari has also brought up a supplemental record which contains a motion made in the state court by the plaintiff in error after the cause had been removed into this Court to amend the record or entries of the judgment by inserting the questions which were decided by the judges. The reasons for and against this motion are spread upon the record, and the facts which would give jurisdiction to this Court are asserted by the one party and denied by the

Page 25 U. S. 121

other. The court took time for advisement, and does not appear to have granted or rejected the motion.

This Court is decidedly of opinion that no orders made in the court of the state after the removal of the record into this Court by writ of error, not made by way of amendment but introducing new matter, could be brought into it or could in any manner affect it. The cause must be tried on the record as it stood when removed, not upon the subsequent proceedings which were pressed in the state court after its final judgment was given. In the present case, nothing is before the court but the original record.

That record exhibits a caveat against the issuing of a grant on a survey made for the defendant, and assigns various causes why it should not be issued. The plaintiff claimed under a patent from the State of Tennessee, and the caveat was the proper process to contest the right of the defendant. On the trial, a jury, in pursuance of the Act of the legislature of that state of 1807, ch. 1. sec. 8., was "empanelled and sworn for finding such facts as are material to the cause, and not agreed on by the parties." The jury found, 1st, that on 3 May, 1784, Ezekiel Norris made his entry in the office of John Armstrong, entry taker of western lands, reciting the words of the entry. In the margin, the following words are inserted, "detained for nonpayment."

2d. That on 18 November, 1815, a duplicate warrant of survey was issued by the Commissioner of West Tennessee to the said Norris, a copy of which is annexed.

3d. The 3d fact is that the entry was special, and the 4th that the tract of land which the entry called to adjoin was notorious.

5th. That the original warrant, No 2047, to Ezekiel Norris, issued and was filed in the Comptroller's Office of North Carolina without any endorsement thereon; that it was detained for nonpayment. The copy of the warrant is found and is incomplete, being without the signature of John Armstrong, the entry taker.

The caveatee required the jury to find as a fact that the purchase money was paid by Norris and that the memorandum in the margin "detained for nonpayment" was a

Page 25 U. S. 122

fraudulent entry. The jury refused to find this fact, and in its stead found

"That it is not proved to them that the consideration, at the rate of

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