Williams v. United States
289 U.S. 553 (1933)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. United States, 289 U.S. 553 (1933)

Williams v. United States

No. 728

Argued April 12, 1933

Decided May 29, 1933

289 U.S. 553

Syllabus

1. The judicial power of the Court of Claims is not vested in virtue of Art. III of the Constitution, so as to bring its judges within the protection of that Article as to tenure of office and compensation. Ex parte Bakelite Corp.,279 U. S. 438. Expressions in United States v. Klein, 13 Wall. 128, and other cases criticized. Pp. 289 U. S. 567-568, 289 U. S. 581.

2. The Court of Claims, originally an administrative or advisory body, is, under the existing laws, a court exercising judicial power and capable of rendering final judgments reviewable by this Court. P. 289 U. S. 564.

3. Judicial power, apart from that defined by Art. III of the Constitution, may be conferred by Congress upon legislative courts as well as upon constitutional courts; which is exemplified in the instances of territorial courts, and also of state courts when sitting in naturalization proceedings. P. 289 U. S. 565.

4. The judicial power of Art. III does not attach to the Court of Claims in virtue of the consent of the United States to be sued therein coupled with the clause of that Article extending the judicial power of the United States to "controversies to which the United States shall be a party." Expressions in Minnesota v. Hitchcock,185 U. S. 373, and Kansas v. United States,204 U. S. 331, disapproved. Pp. 289 U. S. 571, 289 U. S. 577.

Page 289 U. S. 554

5. Article III, § 2, cl. 1 of the Constitution declares that the judicial power of the United States shall extend to "all" of some of the classes of cases named therein, but omits the word "all" in naming other classes, including "controversies to which the United States shall be a party." The omission was not accidental, but expresses, ex industria, a limitation of meaning. P. 289 U. S. 572.

6. In expounding the Constitution, every word must have its due force and appropriate meaning, and no word is to be regarded as unnecessarily used or needlessly added. P. 289 U. S. 573.

7. In the light of the rule of sovereign immunity from suit, which was well settled and understood when the Constitution was framed, the proposition that Art. III intended to include suits against the United States is inadmissible. Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419, and Hans v. Louisiana,134 U. S. 1, involving suits against states, discussed. P. 289 U. S. 573.

8. That clause must be construed in accord with the construction put upon it by the first Judiciary Act, as though it read "controversies to which the United States shall be a party plaintiff or petitioner." Pp. 289 U. S. 573, 289 U. S. 577.

9. Controversies to which the United States may by statute be made a party defendant, at least as a general rule, lie wholly outside the scope of the judicial power vested by Art. III in the constitutional courts. P. 289 U. S. 577.

10. Where a controversy is of such a character as to require the exercise of the judicial power defined by Art. III, jurisdiction thereof can be conferred only on courts established in virtue of that Article, and Congress is without power to vest that judicial power in any other judicial tribunal, or, of course, in an executive officer or administrative or executive board, since "they are incapable of receiving it." American Ins. Co. v. Canter, 1 Pet. 511. P. 578.

11. Since all matters made cognizable by the Court of Claims are equally susceptible of legislative or executive determination, they are matters in respect of which there is no constitutional right to a judicial remedy, and the authority to inquire into and decide them may constitutionally be conferred on a nonjudicial officer or body. P. 289 U. S. 579.

12. A power which may be devolved at the will of Congress upon any of the three departments plainly is not within the doctrine of the separation and independent exercise of governmental powers contemplated by the tripartite distribution of such powers P. 289 U. S. 580.

Page 289 U. S. 555

13. The jurisdiction of the Court of Claims to award compensation for property taken by power of eminent domain, and its jurisdiction to adjudicate setoffs, etc., claimed by the United States, are consistent with its status as a legislative court. P. 289 U. S. 581.

14. Obiter dicta may be respected, but ought not to control the judgment in a subsequent suit when the very point is presented for decision. P. 289 U. S. 568.

Response to questions certified by the Court of Claims, arising in a suit brought in that court by one of its judges against the United States for the purpose of testing the constitutionality of a reduction of his official salary. Cf. the preceding report of O'Donoghue v. United States, ante, p. 289 U. S. .516. This case was argued with that one.

Page 289 U. S. 559

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