Virginia v. West Virginia
Annotate this Case
246 U.S. 565 (1918)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Virginia v. West Virginia, 246 U.S. 565 (1918)
Virginia v. West Virginia
No. 2, Original
Submitted March 6, 1917
Decided April 22, 1918
246 U.S. 565
A suggestion now made for the first time by West Virginia, viz., that that state has an interest in an alleged right of Virginia against the United States respecting lands of the Northwest Territory, presents no ground for not enforcing the judgment heretofore rendered.
The judgment heretofore rendered cannot now be attacked upon the ground that, in original cases in this Court, one state cannot recover from another in a mere action of debt.
The suit, however, was more than a mere action to collect a debt.
The principle which forbids the production of state governmental inequality by affixing conditions to a state's admission is irrelevant to the question of power to enforce the contract in this case.
The original jurisdiction conferred upon this Court by the Constitution over controversies between states includes the power to enforce its judgment by appropriate remedial processes, operating where necessary upon the governmental powers and agencies of a state.
The authority to enforce its judgments is of the essence of judicial power. That this elementary principle applies to the original jurisdiction in controversies between states has been universally recognized as beyond dispute, as is manifested by the numerous cases of the kind which have been decided, in not one of which hitherto, since the foundation of the government, has a state done otherwise than voluntarily respect and accede to the judgment.
The provision granting this jurisdiction examined as to its origin and purpose, together with the closely related provisions prohibiting interstate agreements without the consent of Congress and depriving the states of army and warmaking powers and vesting them in Congress, the result being to show the clear intention of the Constitution, conceived out of regard for the rights of all the states and for the preservation of the Constitution itself, to forestall for the future the dangers of state controversies by uniting with the power to decide them the power to enforce the decisions against the state governments.
To this power the reserved powers of the states necessarily are subordinate.
The powers to decide and enforce, comprehensively considered, are sustained by every authority of the federal government, judicial, legislative, and executive, which may be appropriately exercised.
The vesting in Congress of complete power to control agreements between states clearly rested upon the conception that Congress, as the repository not only of legislative power but of primary authority to maintain armies and declare war, speaking for all the states and for their protection, was concerned with such agreements, and therefore was virtually endowed with the ultimate power of final agreement which was withdrawn from the states.
It follows by necessary implication that the power of Congress to grant or withhold assent to such contracts carries with it the duty and power to see to their enforcement when made operative by its sanction.
This power is plenary, limited only by the general rule that acts done for the exertion of a power must be relevant and appropriate to the power exerted.
As a national power, it is dominant, and not circumscribed by the powers reserved to the states.
The power of Congress to legislate for the enforcement of a contract between two states under the circumstances here presented is not incompatible with the grant of original jurisdiction to this Court to entertain a suit on the same subject.
The power of Congress also extends to the creation of new judicial remedies to meet the exigency occasioned by the judicial duty of enforcing a judgment against a state under the circumstances here presented.
Out of consideration for the character of the parties, and in the belief that the respondent state will now discharge its plain duty without compulsion, and because the case is such that full opportunity should be afforded to Congress to exercise its undoubted power to legislate, the Court abstains from determining what judicial remedies are available under existing legislation, and postpones the case for future argument upon the following questions: (1) whether mandamus compelling the Legislature of West Virginia to levy a tax to pay the judgment is an appropriate remedy; (2) whether the power and duty exist to direct the levy of a tax adequate to pay the judgment and provide for its enforcement irrespective of state agencies; (3) whether, if necessary, the judgment may be executed through some
other equitable remedy, dealing with such funds or taxable property of West Virginia, or rights of that state, as may be available.
Right is reserved in the meantime to appoint a master to examine and report concerning the amount and method to taxation, whether by the state legislature or through direct action, essential to satisfy the judgment as well as concerning the means otherwise existing in West Virginia which, by the exercise of equitable power, may be made available to that end.
On January 29, 1917, Virginia submitted her motion for leave to file a petition for a writ of mandamus, and for an order directed to the State of West Virginia and the members of her legislature requiring them to show cause why the writ should not issue, commanding the levy of a tax to satisfy the judgment heretofore recovered by Virginia. The motion was granted February 5, 1917, and the rule issued returnable March 6th following. The present decision arose upon the respondents' motion to discharge the rule, submitted on the latter date. *