Smith v. Alabama
Annotate this Case
124 U.S. 465 (1888)
U.S. Supreme Court
Smith v. Alabama, 124 U.S. 465 (1888)
Smith v. Alabama
Argued January 4, 1888
Decided January 30, 1888
124 U.S. 465
The Legislature of Alabama enacted a law entitled "An act to require locomotive engineers in this state to be examined and licensed by a board to be appointed for that purpose," in which it was provided that it should be
"unlawful for the engineer of any railroad train in this state to drive or operate or engineer any train of cars or engine upon the main line or roadbed of any railroad in this state which is used for the transportation of persons, passengers or freight without first undergoing an examination and obtaining a license as hereinafter provided."
The statute then provided for the creation of a board of examiners and prescribed their duties, and authorized them to issue licenses and imposed a license fee, and then enacted
"That any engineer violating the provisions of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than fifty nor more than five hundred dollars, and may also be sentenced to hard labor for the county for not more than six months."
Plaintiff in error was an engineer in the service of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad Company. His duty was to "drive, operate, and engineer" a locomotive engine drawing a passenger train on that road, regularly plying in one continuous trip between Mobile in Alabama and Corinth in Mississippi, and vice versa, 60 miles of which trip was in Alabama, and 265 in Mississippi. He never "drove, operated, or engineered" a locomotive engine hauling cars from one point to another point exclusively within the Alabama. After the statute of Alabama took effect, he continued to perform such regular duties without taking out the license required by that act. He was proceeded against for a violation of the statute, and was committed to jail to answer the charge. He petitioned a state court for a writ of habeas corpus upon the ground that he was employed in interstate commerce, and that the statute, so far as it applied to him, was a regulation of commerce among the states, and repugnant to the Constitution of the United States. The writ was refused, and the Supreme Court of the Alabama on appeal affirmed that judgment.
(1) That the statute of Alabama was not in its nature a regulation of commerce, even when applied to such a case as this.
(2) That it was an act of legislation within the scope of the powers reserved to the states to regulate the relative rights and duties of persons within their respective territorial jurisdictions, being intended to operate so as to secure safety of persons and property for the public.
(3) That so far as it affected transactions of commerce among the states,
it did so only indirectly, incidentally, and remotely, and not so as to burden or impede them, and that, in the particulars in which it touched those transactions at all, it was not in conflict with any express enactment of Congress on the subject nor contrary to any intention of Congress to be presumed from its silence.
(4) That so far as it was alleged to contravene the Constitution of they United States, the statute was a valid law.
The case, as stated by the court, was as follows:
This is a writ of error bringing into review a judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of Alabama affirming a judgment of the City Court of Mobile. The proceeding in the latter court was upon a writ of habeas corpus sued out by the plaintiff in error seeking his discharge from the custody of the Sheriff of Mobile County in that state under a commitment by a justice of the peace upon the charge of handling, engineering, driving, and operating an engine pulling a passenger train upon the Mobile and Ohio Railroad used in transporting passengers within the County of Mobile and State of Alabama without having obtained a license from the board of examiners appointed by the governor of said state in accordance with the provisions of an act entitled "An act to require locomotive engineers in this state to be examined and licensed by a board to be appointed by the governor for that purpose," approved February 28, 1887, and after more than three months had elapsed from the date of appointment and qualification of said board. The plaintiff in error, upon complaint, was committed by the examining magistrate to the custody of the sheriff to answer an indictment for that alleged offense. The ground of the application for discharge upon the writ of habeas corpus in the City Court of Mobile was that the act of the General Assembly of the State of Alabama, for the violation of which he was held, was in contravention of that clause of the Constitution of the United States which confers upon Congress power to regulate commerce among the states.
The facts, as they appeared upon the hearing upon the return of the writ, are as follows:
The petitioner, at the time of his arrest on July 16, 1887, within the County of Mobile, was a locomotive engineer in the service of the Mobile and
Ohio Railroad Company, a corporation owning and operating a line of railroad forming a continuous and unbroken line of railway from Mobile, in the State of Alabama, to St. Louis, in the State of Missouri, and as such was then engaged in handling, operating, and driving a locomotive engine, attached to a regular passenger train on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad within the county and state, consisting of a postal car carrying the United States mail to all parts of the union, a southern express car containing perishable freight, money packages, and other valuable merchandise destined to Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and other states, passenger coaches, and a Pullman palace sleeping car occupied by passengers to be transported by said train to the States of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The petitioner's run as a locomotive engineer in the service of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad Company was regularly from the City of Mobile, in the State of Alabama, to Corinth, in the State of Mississippi, sixty miles of which run was in the State of Alabama, and two hundred and sixty-five miles in the State of Mississippi, and he never handled and operated an engine pulling a train of cars whose destination was a point within the State of Alabama when said engine and train of cars started from a point within that state. His train started at Mobile and ran through without change of coaches or cars, on one continuous trip. His employment as locomotive engineer in the service of said company also required him to take charge of and handle, drive, and operate an engine drawing a passenger train which started from St. Louis, in the State of Missouri, destined to the City of Mobile, in the State of Alabama, said train being loaded with merchandise and occupied by passengers destined to Alabama and other states; this engine and train he took charge of at Corinth, in Mississippi, and handled, drove, and operated the same along and over the Mobile and Ohio Railroad through the States of Mississippi and Alabama to the City of Mobile. It frequently happened that he was ordered by the proper officers of the said company to handle, drive, and operate an engine drawing a passenger train loaded with merchandise, carrying the United States mail, and occupied by passengers, from the
City of Mobile, in Alabama, to the City of St. Louis, in Missouri, being allowed two lay-overs; said train passing through the States of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois and into the State of Missouri.
It was admitted that the petitioner had not obtained the license required by the Act of the General Assembly of the State of Alabama of February 28, 1887, and had not applied to the board of examiners, or any of its members, for such license, and that more than three months had elapsed since the appointment and qualification of said board of examiners, the same having been duly appointed by the governor of the state under the provisions of said act. The statute of Alabama the validity of which is thus drawn in question as being contrary to the Constitution of the United States and the validity of which has been affirmed by the judgment of the Supreme Court of Alabama now in review is as follows:
"An act to require locomotive engineers in this state to be examined and licensed by a board to be appointed by the governor for that purpose."
"SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Alabama that it shall be unlawful for the engineer of any railroad train in this state to drive or operate or engineer any train of cars or engine upon the main line or roadbed of any railroad in this state which is used for the transportation of persons, passengers, or freight without first undergoing an examination and obtaining a license as hereinafter provided."
"SEC. 2. Be it further enacted that before any locomotive engineer shall operate or drive an engine upon the main line or roadbed of any railroad in this state used for the transportation of persons or freight, he shall apply to the board of examiners hereinafter provided for in this act and be examined by said board or by two or more members thereof in practical mechanics and concerning his knowledge of operating a locomotive engine and his competency as an engineer."
"SEC. 3. Be it further enacted that upon the examination of any engineer as provided in this act, if the applicant is
found competent, he shall, upon payment of five dollars, receive a license, which shall be signed by each member of the board, and which shall set forth the fact that the said engineer has been duly examined, as required by law, and is authorized to engage as an engineer on any of the railroads in this state."
"SEC. 4. Be it further enacted that in addition to the examination provided for in section two (2), it shall be the duty of said board of examiners, before issuing the license provided for in this act, to inquire into the character and habits of all engineers applying for license, and in no case shall a license be issued if the applicant is found to be of reckless or intemperate habits."
"SEC. 5. Be it further enacted that any engineer who, after procuring a license as provided in this act, shall at any time be guilty of any act of recklessness, carelessness, or negligence while running an engine by which any damage to persons or property is done, or who shall, within six hours before or during the time he is engaged in running an engine, be in a state of intoxication shall forfeit his license, with all the rights and privileges acquired by it, indefinitely or for a stated period, as the board may determine after notifying such engineer to appear before the board and inquiring into his act or conduct. It shall be the duty of the board to determine whether the engineer is unfit or incompetent by reason of any act or habit unknown at the time of his examination, or acquired or formed subsequent to it, and if it is made to appear that he is unfit or incompetent from any cause, the board shall revoke or cancel his license and shall notify every railroad in this state of the action of the board."
"SEC. 6. Be it further enacted that it shall be the duty of the governor, as soon after the approval of this act as practicable, to appoint and commission five skilled mechanics, one of whom shall reside in Birmingham, one in Montgomery, one in Mobile, one in Selma, and one in Eufaula, who shall constitute a board of examiners for locomotive engineers. It shall be the duty of said board to examine locomotive engineers, issue licenses, hear causes of complaint, revoke or cancel
licenses, and perform such duties as are provided in this act, provided that any one of said board shall have authority to examine applicants for licenses, and if the applicant is found competent, to issue license to him; provided further that for every examination provided in this act, the board or member thereof making the examination shall be entitled to five dollars, to be paid by the applicant."
"SEC. 7. Be it further enacted that all engineers now employed in running or operating engines upon railroads in this state shall have three months after the appointment of the board herein provided within which to be examined and to obtain a license."
"SEC. 8. Be it further enacted that any engineer violating the provisions of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined not less than fifty nor more than five hundred dollars, and may also be sentenced to hard labor for the county for not more than six months. "
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