Norman v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co.,
294 U.S. 240 (1935)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Norman v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co., 294 U.S. 240 (1935)

Norman v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co.

Nos. 270, 471 and 472

Argued January 8, 9, 10, 1935

Decided February 18, 1935*

294 U.S. 240


1. A bond for the future payment of a stated number of dollars in gold coin of the United States "of or equivalent to the standard of weight and fineness existing" on the date of the bond, or for payment in gold coin of the United States "of the standard of weight and fineness prevailing" on the date of the bond, is not a contract for payment in gold coin as a commodity, or in bullion (cf. Bronson v. Rodes, 7 Wall. at p. 74 U. S. 250), but is a contract for payment in money. Pp. 294 U. S. 298-302.

2. Such "gold clauses" are intended to afford a definite standard or measure of value, and thus to protect against depreciation of the currency and discharge of the obligations by payment of a lesser value than that prescribed. P. 294 U. S. 302.

3. In determining whether the Joint Resolution of June 5, 1933, exceeded the power of Congress by undertaking to nullify such "gold clause" stipulations in preexisting money contract obligations, and by providing that such obligations shall be discharged, dollar for dollar, in any coin or currency which at the time of payment is legal tender for public and private debts, the Resolution must be considered in its legislative setting, with other measures in pari materia (p. 294 U. S. 297), and in the light of the following principles, which have heretofore been laid down by this Court, viz:

(a) The broad and comprehensive national authority over the subjects of revenue, finance, and currency is derived from the aggregate

Page 294 U. S. 241

of the powers granted to the Congress, embracing the powers to lay and collect taxes, to borrow money, to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States, to coin money, regulate the value thereof and of foreign coin, and fix the standards of weights and measures, and the added express power "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution" the other enumerated powers. P. 294 U. S. 303.

(b) The Constitution means to provide the same currency of uniform value in all the States, and therefore the power to regulate the value of money was withdrawn from the States and vested in Congress exclusively. P. 294 U. S. 302.

(c) Congress has power to enact that paper currency shall be equal in value to the representative of value determined by the coinage acts, and impress upon it such qualities as currency for purchases and for payment of debts as accord with the usage of sovereign governments. P. 294 U. S. 304.

(d) The authority to impose requirements of uniformity and parity is an essential feature of the control of the currency, and Congress is authorized to provide a sound and uniform currency for the country and secure the benefit of it to the people by appropriate legislation. P. 294 U. S. 304.

(e) The ownership of gold and silver coin is subject to those limitations which public policy may require by reason of their quality as legal tender and as a medium of exchange. Hence, the power to coin money includes the power to forbid mutilation, melting, and exportation of gold and silver coin. P. 294 U. S. 304.

(f) Private contracts must be understood as having been made subject to the possible exercise of the rightful authority of the Government, and their impairment, resulting from such exercise, is not a taking of private property for public use without compensation, or a deprivation of it without due process of law. Pp. 294 U. S. 304-305.

4. In the exercise of the constitutional authority of Congress to regulate the currency and establish the monetary system of the country, existing contracts of private parties, States or municipalities, previously made, and valid when made, but which interfere with the policy constitutionally adopted by Congress, may be set aside not only through the indirect effect of the legislation, but directly, by express provision. Pp. 294 U. S. 306-309.

5. Whether the gold clauses of the contracts here in question may be deemed to interfere with the monetary policy of Congress depends upon an appraisement of economic conditions and upon determinations

Page 294 U. S. 242

of questions of fact, as to which Congress is entitled to use its own judgment. P. 294 U. S. 311.

6. The Court may inquire whether the action of Congress, invalidating such clauses, was arbitrary or capricious; but, if that action has reasonable relation, as an appropriate means, to a legitimate end, the decision of Congress as to the degree of necessity for its adoption is final. P. 294 U. S. 311.

7. Congress was entitled to consider the great volume of obligations with gold clauses because of its obvious bearing upon the question whether their existence constituted a substantial obstruction to the congressional policy. P. 294 U. S. 313.

8. Taken literally, as calling for actual payment in gold coin, these promises were calculated to increase the demand for gold, to encourage hoarding, and to stimulate attempts at exportation of gold coin, in direct opposition to the policy of Congress. P. 294 U. S. 313.

9. Congress has power, in its control of the monetary system, to endeavor to conserve the gold resources of the Treasury, to insure its command of gold in order to protect and increase its reserves, and to prohibit the exportation of gold coin or its use for any purpose inconsistent with the needs of the Treasury. P. 294 U. S. 313.

10. Treated as "gold value" clauses, such stipulations are still hostile to the policy of Congress, and subject to prohibition, for the following reasons:

(a) Although, at the date of the Joint Resolution, the dollar had not yet been devalued, devaluation (reduction of the weight of the gold dollar as the standard of value, which occurred later) was then in prospect and a uniform currency was intended. P. 294 U. S. 314.

(b) Congress could constitutionally act upon the gold clauses in anticipation of this devaluation, if the clauses interfered with its policy. P. 294 U. S. 315.

(c) It may be judicially noticed that the bonds issued by States, municipalities, railroads, other public utilities and many industrial corporations contain such gold clauses. P. 294 U. S. 315.

(d) If States, municipalities, railroads, public utilities, industrial corporations, etc., receiving all their income in the devalued currency were obliged to pay their gold clause obligations in amounts of currency determined on the basis of the former gold standard, it is easy to see that this disparity of conditions would cause a dislocation of the domestic economy. P. 294 U. S. 315.

265 N.Y. 37; 191 N.E. 726, affirmed.

Dist. Ct. U.S. (unreported), affirmed.

Writs of certiorari were granted (293 U.S. 546, 548) to review two decisions sustaining the power of Congress to invalidate "gold clauses" in private money contracts.

In the first case, an action on a coupon from a railroad bond, the Court of Appeals of New York sustained the trial court in limiting the recovery to the face of the coupon, dollar for dollar, in currency.

In the second case, a proceeding under § 77 of the Bankruptcy Act, a federal District Court made a like ruling with respect to certain other railroad bonds. In this case, two appeals were taken to the Circuit Court of Appeals, one allowed by that court and the other by the District Judge. While they were pending, this Court granted writs of certiorari on the petition of the United States and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which had both intervened in the District Court.

Page 294 U. S. 291

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