United States v. Sprague
282 U.S. 716 (1931)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Sprague, 282 U.S. 716 (1931)

United States v. Sprague

No. 606

Argued January 21, 1931

Decided February 24, 1931

282 U.S. 716

Syllabus

1. The Eighteenth Amendment was by lawful proposal and ratification made a part of the Constitution. Pp. 282 U. S. 730-734.

2. Article V, in its provision that proposed amendments shall become part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, "as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress," plainly and without ambiguity places the choice between these two modes in the sole discretion of Congress, and cannot by construction be read as requiring that changes detracting from the liberty of the citizen, distinguished from changes in the character of federal means or machinery, shall be referred to conventions. P. 282 U. S. 730.

3. The Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary as distinguished from technical meaning; where the intention is clear, there is no room for construction and no excuse for interpolation or addition. P. 282 U. S. 731.

4. The fact that an instrument drawn with such meticulous care, and by men who so well understood how to make language fit their thought, does not contain any phrase limiting the exercise of discretion by the Congress in choosing one or the other alternative modes of ratification is persuasive evidence that no qualification was intended. P. 282 U. S. 732.

5. Article V does not purport to delegate any governmental power to the United States, nor to withhold any from it; it is a grant of authority by the people to Congress, and not to the United States; Congress functions as the delegated agent of the people in choosing the one or the other method of ratifying proposed amendments to the Constitution. P. 282 U. S. 733.

6. The Tenth Amendment added nothing to the Constitution as originally ratified, and lends no support to the contention that the people did not delegate this power to Congress in matters affecting their own personal liberty. P. 282 U. S. 733.

7. The fact that several of the other Amendments (notably the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Nineteenth),

Page 282 U. S. 717

which touch right of the citizen, were ratified by state legislatures weighs against the argument that that mode was erroneously followed in the case of the Eighteenth Amendment. P. 1 282 U. S. 734.

44 F.2d 967 reversed.

Appeal, under the Criminal Appeals Act, from a judgment quashing an indictment based on the National Prohibition Act.

Page 282 U. S. 729

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