Swigart v. Baker,
229 U.S. 187 (1913)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Swigart v. Baker, 229 U.S. 187 (1913)

Swigart v. Baker

No. 944

Argued April 9, 10, 1913

Decided May 26, 1913

229 U.S. 187


A statutory provision for charging cost of construction of an improvement against property benefited may include the cost of maintenance as well as of actual construction, and in determining the scope of the provision, the court may arrive at the legislative intent by examining the history of the statute.

The history of the Reclamation Act of 1902 shows that it was the intent of Congress that the cost of each irrigation project should be assessed against the property benefited and that the assessments as fast as collected should be paid back into the fund for use in subsequent projects without diminution. This intent cannot be carried out without charging the expense of maintenance during the government-held period as well as the cost of construction.

Subsequent legislative construction of a prior act may properly be examined as an aid to its interpretation, and so held that statutes passed since the Reclamation Act of 1902 indicate that Congress has construed the provisions of that act as authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to assess cost of maintenance as well as of construction of irrigation projects upon the land benefited.

Where the executive officer charged with its enforcement annually reports to Congress the same construction of a statute, it is significant if Congress never has taken any adverse action in regard to such construction.

Quaere whether Congress may not, by legislation, construe a prior statute so that, as to all matters subsequently arising, the action is legislative in character.

The repeated and practical construction of the Reclamation Act of 1902 by both Congress and the Secretary of the Interior, in charging cost of maintenance as well as construction, accords with the provisions of the act taken in its entirety, and is followed by this Court.

199 F. 865 reversed.

The facts, which involve the construction of the Reclamation Act of 1902 and whether the purchaser was

Page 229 U. S. 188

required thereunder to pay the annual charges for maintaining the irrigation project by which his lands are irrigated, are stated in the opinion.

Page 229 U. S. 191

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