Newberry v. United States,
256 U.S. 232 (1921)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Newberry v. United States, 256 U.S. 232 (1921)

Newberry v. United States

No. 559

Argued January 7, 10, 1921

Decided May 2, 1921

256 U.S. 232


1. Section 8 of the "Federal Corrupt Practices Act" (June 25, 1910, c. 392, 36 Stat. 822; amended August 19, 1911, c. 33, 37 Stat. 25), which undertakes to limit the amount of money which any candidate for the office of Representative in Congress or of United States Senator shall give, contribute, expend, use, or promise, or cause to be given, contributed, expended, used, or promised, in procuring his nomination or election, is unconstitutional. So held as applied to a primary election of candidates for a seat in the Senate. P. 256 U. S. 247.

2. The power of Congress over elections of Senators and Representatives has its source in § 4 of Art. I of the Constitution, which provides:

"The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of chusing Senators."

P. 256 U. S. 247.

Page 256 U. S. 233

3. An indefinite, undefined power in Congress over elections of Senators and Representatives, not derived from Art. I, § 4, cannot be inferred from the fact that the offices were created by the Constitution, or by assuming that the government must be free from any control by the states over matters affecting the choice of its officers -- a false assumption, ignoring powers clearly vested in the states under the Constitution and the federal character of the government. P. 256 U. S. 249.

4. Elections within the original intendment of § 4 of Art. I were those wherein Senators should be chosen by legislatures and Representatives by voters possessing "the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature." Art. I, §§ 2 and 3. P. 256 U. S. 250.

5. The Seventeenth Amendment neither announced nor requires a new meaning of election, and the word now has the same general significance as it did when the Constitution came into existence -- final choice of an officer by the duly qualified electors. P. 256 U. S. 250.

6. Primaries are in no sense elections for office, but merely methods by which party adherents agree upon candidates whom they intend to offer and support for ultimate choice by all qualified electors. P. 256 U. S. 250.

7. The Seventeenth Amendment does not modify Art. I, § 4, the source of congressional power to regulate the times, places, and manner of holding elections; that section remains intact and applicable to the election of both Representatives and Senators. P. 256 U. S. 252.

8. The Act of June 4, 1914, c. 103, 38 Stat. 384, providing a temporary method of conducting the nomination and election of Senators, sheds no light on the power of Congress to regulate primaries and conventions. P. 256 U. S. 253.

9. Even if the Seventeenth Amendment gave power to regulate primaries for the choice of senatorial candidates, its adoption did not validate the earlier penal statute on the subject (Act of 1910-1911, supra, par. 1); an after-acquired power cannot ex propria vigore validate a statute void when enacted. P. 256 U. S. 254.

10. Section 2 of the Act of June 4, 1914, supra, if it could be regarded as an attempt to regulate nominations of Senators, based on the Amendment, would have no bearing on a prosecution under the Act of 1910-1911 for conduct occurring after that section expired by its own limitation. P. 256 U. S. 254.

11. The power to control party primaries for designating candidates for the Senate is not within the grant of power "to regulate the manner of holding elections" (Art. I, § 4) -- neither within the

Page 256 U. S. 234

fair intendment of the words used nor the meaning ascribed to them by the framer of the Constitution; it is not necessary in order to effectuate the power expressly granted (Art. I, § 8, cl. 18), and its exercise would interfere with purely domestic affairs of the states and infringe upon liberties reserved to the people. P. 256 U. S. 256.


Writ of error to a conviction and sentence under an indictment charging conspiracy to violate the Federal Corrupt Practices Act. The case is stated in the opinion, post 256 U. S. 243.

Page 256 U. S. 243

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