Fairchild v. Hughes
258 U.S. 126 (1922)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Fairchild v. Hughes, 258 U.S. 126 (1922)

Fairchild v. Hughes

No. 148

Argued January 23, 1922

Decided February 27, 1922

258 U.S. 126

APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS

OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

1. The general right of a citizen to have the government administered according to law and the public moneys not wasted does not entitle him to institute in the federal courts a suit to secure by indirection a determination whether a statute, if passed, or a constitutional amendment about to be adopted, will be valid. P. 258 U. S. 129.

2. Though in form a suit in equity, this is not a case within Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution. P. 258 U. S. 129.

Affirmed.

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Primary Holding

Someone who seeks to find out whether a proposed statute or constitutional amendment would be valid, if passed, does not have the right to bring a lawsuit with the goal of determining that indirectly. While citizens have a general interest in the proper administration of government and the effective use of their taxpayer money, this does not extend to requiring the federal courts to resolve issues that are not yet ripe for decision.

Facts

The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted the right to vote to women. Thirty-four states passed resolutions to ratify it, and one certificate had been received by the Secretary of State. He needed just one more certificate before issuing a proclamation to announce that the amendment had been adopted. The Senate meanwhile had introduced a bill that imposed criminal penalties on anyone who prevented a woman from voting, which would be enforced by the Attorney General if it passed. Fairchild sought to have the amendment declared unconstitutional, obtain an injunction to prevent the Secretary of State from proclaiming that it had been adopted, and obtain an injunction to prevent the Attorney General from enforcing it.

Claiming that the proclamation of adoption would not be conclusive proof of the amendment's validity, Fairchild argued that it would encourage election officers to allow women to vote in states where only men could vote under the state constitutions. He cast a male-exclusive voting system as a right for men in those states, and he argued that removing that right would undermine the value of the votes in those states while increasing election expenses.

Opinions

Majority

  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis (Author)
  • William Howard Taft
  • Joseph McKenna
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
  • William Rufus Day
  • Willis Van Devanter
  • Mahlon Pitney
  • James Clark McReynolds
  • John Hessin Clarke

This case may not be heard under Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, which allows the courts to hear a claim in equity. The plaintiff fails to present any claims that courts can evaluate through their regular proceedings, established by law or custom to protect rights and punish wrongs. No concrete harm has been shown, since the allegedly wrongful acts of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General are merely speculative at this stage. Citizens do not have a right to bring a claim to challenge the validity of statutes or constitutional amendments that have not been adopted. Standing is not conferred by a general right to ensure that the government lawfully administers its laws.

Case Commentary

There is no standing for an individual bringing a generalized grievance based on taxpayer status, except for some situations involving the Establishment Clause. The Court might have found that there was standing if the suit had been brought by an election officer or by a citizen of a state that still had a law restricting voting to men.

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