Weston v. City Council of Charleston - 27 U.S. 449 (1829)
U.S. Supreme Court
Weston v. City Council of Charleston, 27 U.S. 2 Pet. 449 449 (1829)
Weston v. City Council of Charleston
27 U.S. (2 Pet.) 449
A tax imposed by a law of any state of the United States or under the authority of such a law on stock issued for loans made to the United States is unconstitutional.
The power of this Court to revise the judgments of state tribunals, depends on the 25th section of the Judiciary Act. That section enacts "that a final judgment or decree in any suit in the highest court of law or equity of a state in which a decision in the suit could be had" where is drawn in question the validity of a statute or of an authority exercised under any state, on the ground of their being repugnant to the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States and the decision is in favor of their validity "may be reexamined and reversed or affirmed in the Supreme Court of the United States."
The City Council of Charleston, exercising an authority under the State of South Carolina, enacted an ordinance, by which a tax was imposed on the six and
seven percent stock of the United States, and in the Court of Common Pleas of the Charleston District, an application was made for a prohibition to distrain them from levying the tax on the ground that the ordinance violated the Constitution of the United States. The prohibition was granted, and the proceedings in the case were removed to the constitutional court, the highest court of law of the state, and in that court it was held that the ordinance did not violate the Constitution of the United States, and a writ of error was prosecuted on this decision to this Court. Held that the question decided by the constitutional court was the very question on which the revising power of this Court is to be exercised.
A writ of error to this Court may be prosecuted where by the judgment of the highest court of the State of South Carolina, a prohibition, issued in a state court to prevent the levying of a tax which was imposed by a law repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, was refused on the ground that the law was not so repugnant to the Constitution.
The term suit is certainly a very comprehensive one, and is understood to apply to any proceeding in a court of justice in which an individual pursues that remedy in a court of justice which the law affords him.
The words "final judgment" in the 25th section of the Judiciary Act must be understood in the section under consideration as applying to all judgments and decrees which determine the particular cause, and it is not required that such judgments shall finally decide upon the rights which are litigated, that the same shall be within purview of the section.
It is not the want of original power in an independent sovereign state to prohibit loans to a foreign government which restrains the state legislature from direct opposition to those made by the United States. The restraint is imposed by our Constitution. The American people have conferred the power of borrowing money on the government, and by making that government supreme, have shielded its action in the exercise of that power, from the action of the local governments. The grant of the power and the declaration of supremacy is a declaration that no such distraining or controlling power shall be exercised.
On 20 February, 1823, the City Council of Charleston passed "an ordinance to raise supplies for the use of the City of Charleston, for the year 1823." The ordinance provides
"That the following species of property, owned and possessed within the limits of the City of Charleston, shall be subject to taxation in the manner, and at the rate, and conformably to the provisions hereinafter specified -- that is to say, all personal estate, consisting of bonds, notes, insurance stock, six and seven percent stock of the United States, or other obligations upon which interest has been or will be received during the year, over and above the interest which has been paid (funded stock of this state, and stock of the incorporated banks of this state and the United States bank excepted) twenty-five cents upon every hundred dollars."
In the Court of Common Pleas for the Charleston District, the plaintiffs in error, in May, 1823, filed a suggestion for a prohibition, as owners of United States stock, against the City Council of Charleston, to restrain them from levying under the ordinances, on six and seven percent stock of the United States and the tax imposed under the ordinance, on the ground that the ordinance, so far as it imposes a tax on the stock of the United States is contrary to the Constitution of the United States.
The prohibition having been granted, the city council applied to the constitutional court, the highest court of law in the state, to reverse the order, on the ground that the ordinance was not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, and the proceedings in the case having been removed to the said court, the said court, in May term, 1823, by a majority of their judges (four being in favor of the constitutionality of the ordinance, and three against it) decided that the said ordinance did not violate the Constitution of the United States in imposing a tax upon the holders of United States stock. From this decision the relators appealed by writ of error to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The error assigned in this Court was that the judgment
of the constitutional court was erroneous in that it decided the ordinance of the City Council of Charleston not to be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.