1. No jurisdiction exists in this Court under the 25th section
of the Judiciary Act to review a decision of the highest court of
the state maintaining the validity of a law which it has been set
up "impairs the obligation of a contract" when the law set up as
having this effect was in existence when the alleged contract was
made and the highest state court has only decided that there was no
contract in the case.
2. A constitution of a state is in this case admitted to be a
"law" within the meaning of that clause of the Constitution of the
United States which ordains that "No state shall pass any law
impairing the obligation of contracts."
The District Court of Washington County, Iowa, on a bill by the
county to restrain the collection of taxes for the payment of
certain county bonds issued to railroads in June and July, 1858,
and where the fact whether, at the time the bonds were issued, the
then constitution of the state gave authority to counties to issue
such bonds was one of the issues raised by the pleadings, enjoined
the collection, so apparently in effect deciding that the bonds
were void under the constitution of the state existing when they
were issued. The
Page 77 U. S. 512
creditors appealed to the supreme court of the state. That court
affirmed the judgment. The record brought here from it showed that
the creditors made the question before that court
"that the decision of the court below violated that clause in
the Constitution of the United States which provides that no state
shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts, and the
decision of this court was against the right set up under such
clause of the Constitution."
The creditors now brought their case here as within the 25th
section of the Judiciary Act, which enacts that
"Final judgments in the highest court of a state where is drawn
in question the validity of a statute of or authority exercised
under any state on the ground of their being repugnant to the
Constitution . . . of the United States and the decision is in
favor of such, their validity may be reexamined and reversed or
affirmed in this Court."
The Supreme Court of Iowa, as appeared from its published
opinion, considered that the decision of the inferior court, which,
it stated, had adjudged the bonds to be unconstitutional, and so
null and void ab initio
(in other words, had adjudged that
there was no contract in the case) was not a decision against the
clause of the Constitution of the United States which says "That no
state shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts,"
and on this ground affirmed it.
Page 77 U. S. 513
MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE stated the case and delivered the opinion of
This is a writ of error to the Supreme Court of the State of
Iowa. The case is brought into this Court under the 25th section of
the Judiciary Act of 1789.
Nathaniel McClure and the other complainants who are such in
their own right filed a bill in equity in the District Court of
Washington County whereby they sought to enjoin the collection of
taxes to be applied in the payment of the interest upon certain
bonds issued by that county to the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad
Company as set forth in the bill.
Samuel S. Owen, the county treasurer and collector, and S. P.
Young, the county judge, were made defendants.
McClure died, and his legal representatives were made parties
complainant in his stead. A preliminary injunction was granted. The
Ohio & Mississippi Railroad Company prayed to be made a party,
was made a party accordingly, and filed an answer alleging, among
other things, that Thomas Durant, Betsey D. Tracey, Joseph E.
Sheffield, Clark Durant, Thomas Dunn, and William Newton, were
holders of $132,000 of said bonds, and that
without their being parties, no decree could be made in the cause.
The complainants amended their bill by making those persons
defendants, and those defendants thereupon prayed to have the cause
removed to the District Court of the United States for the Southern
Division of Iowa. The application was overruled. They then filed an
answer wherein they maintained the validity of the bonds and
averred that they and the other holders held them bona
and prayed that the county judge and the county
treasurer should be decreed to collect the amount of taxes
requisite to pay the interest which had accrued. They afterwards
filed a supplemental answer in which they set forth that on the
15th of August, 1860, Clark Durant, for himself and the other
defendants, owners of said bonds, commenced in the District Court
of the United States for the District of Iowa an action at law
against the County of Washington upon the bonds and coupons
Page 77 U. S. 514
referred to in the bill to recover the installments of interest
due thereon for July, 1859, January, 1860, and July, 1860, and that
the County of Washington appeared and pleaded in bar the same
matters that are set up in the bill, and particularly that the
issuing of the bonds was unconstitutional and void, that judgment
was rendered in favor of the plaintiff, and that the said county
thereupon removed the cause to the Supreme Court of the United
States, where it was still pending. The board of supervisors were
subsequently made defendants in this case. The District Court of
Washington County decreed a perpetual injunction as prayed for. The
case was taken by appeal to the supreme court of the state. In that
court the defendants filed two supplemental answers. In the first
it was alleged that since the filing of their preceding answer, the
case of Durant v. County of Washington,
taken to the
Supreme Court of the United States, had been dismissed from that
court, and that the judgment of the District Court of the United
States for the District of Iowa then stood in force and was
unsatisfied. The second answer set forth that on the ___ day of
_____, 1867, the defendants, Clark Durant and others, by the
judgment of the Circuit Court of the United States for the District
of Iowa, upon due process of law, recovered a further and other
judgment upon interest warrants of said bonds to the amount of
$70,652.37; that in said action Clark Durant was plaintiff and the
County of Washington defendant, and that the complainants are
taxpayers of that county, and privies to said judgment. The board
of supervisors also answered in the appellate court. A stipulation
was filed by the counsel of the parties admitting the facts set
forth in the supplemental answers as to the judgments alleged to
have been recovered and the dismissal of the writ of error from
this Court. The motion to remove the cause to the proper court of
the United States was renewed and overruled, as it had been in the
court below. The supreme court of the state affirmed the decree of
the District Court of Washington County. The record shows that the
counsel for the plaintiff in error waived in the supreme court of
Page 77 U. S. 515
all questions except the one relating to the validity of the
bonds. The opinion of the court was confined to that subject. The
bonds were held to be invalid upon the ground that they were
unauthorized and were forbidden by the constitution of the state.
The same counsel in his brief and argument here has discussed only
that subject. He has presented no other proposition for our
consideration. Under these circumstances, we have not deemed it
proper to extend our examination of the case beyond this point.
The question of the validity of the bonds is not one of federal
jurisdiction. The Constitution of the United States declares
that no state
shall pass a law "impairing the obligation of contracts." The
Constitution of a state is undoubtedly a law within the meaning of
this prohibition. A state can no more do what is thus forbidden by
one than by the other. There is the same impediment in the way of
both. But the state has passed no law upon the subject, and the
constitution of the state, which, as construed by the supreme court
of the state, has worked the result complained of, was in force
when the bonds were issued. The 25th section of the Judiciary Act
of 1789 specifies the questions of which we can take cognizance in
this class of cases, and expressly excludes all others from our
consideration. It is clear that the question before us is not
within the affirmative category.
If the case had been brought up from the circuit court under the
22d section of the Judiciary Act, this question and all others
arising on the record would have been open for examination. The
25th section is more limited in its operation.
The case will be dismissed for want of jurisdiction and
remanded to the court whence it came.
* Article I, § 10.