Page images

that a provision in the Constitution extending the judicial power to "all cases" affecting certain persons or certain rights, might be regarded by the legislature as a sufficient authority for the establishment of inferior courts with both a legal and an equitable jurisdiction, and might be considered to confer such a double jurisdiction on the supreme tribunal contemplated by the Constitution. But the text of the Constitution itself would be the source to which the people of the United States would look, when called upon to adopt it, for the benefits which they were to derive from it, and there would be no part of it which they would scrutinize more closely than that which was to establish the judicial power of the new government. If they found in it no imperative declaration making it the duty of Congress to provide for a jurisdiction in equity as well as at law, and no express adoption of such a jurisdiction for the supreme tribunal, they might well say that the character of the judicial power was left to the accidental choice of Congress, or to doubtful interpretation, instead of being expressly ordained in its full and essential proportions by the people. If a citizen of one State were to pursue a remedy in the courts of the Union against a citizen of another State, or if one State should have a judicial controversy with another, that would be a very imperfect system of judicature which should leave the form and extent of the remedy to be determined by the local law where the process was to be instituted, or which should confine the relief to the forms and proceed

ings of the common law. If the appellate jurisdiction of the supreme national tribunal were to be exercised over any class of controversies originating in the State courts, it was extremely important that the Constitution should expressly ascertain whether suits at law, or suits in equity, or both, were to be embraced within that appellate power. For these reasons, it became necessary for the Convention to supply this defect, by extending the judicial power, both in equity and at law, to the several cases embraced in it.

Another defect in the report of the committee, or what was regarded as a defect when the Constitution was ratified, and one which the Convention did not supply, was in the omission of any express provision for trial by jury in civil cases. Such a provision was supplied by an amendment proposed by the first Congress that assembled under the Constitution, and adopted in 1791; but it was regarded by the framers of the Constitution as inexpedient, on account of the different construction of juries in the different States, and the diversity of their usages with respect to the cases in which trial by jury was used. It is quite possible that, after the Constitution had declared that the jurisdiction of the national tribunals should extend to all cases "in law" affecting certain parties or rights, Congress would not have been at liberty to establish inferior tribunals for the trial of cases "in law" by any other method than according to the course of the common law, 1 Elliot, V. 550.

which requires that the fact in such cases shall be tried by a jury. But the objection which afterwards prevailed was connected, as we shall presently see, with what was regarded as a dangerous ambiguity in the clause of the Constitution which gave to the Supreme Court its appellate jurisdiction both as to law and fact.

The plan of the committee of detail contemplated a supreme tribunal with original jurisdiction over a few of the cases within the judicial power, and appellate jurisdiction over all the other cases enumerated. Inquiry was made in the Convention, whether this appellate jurisdiction was intended to embrace fact as well as law, and to extend to cases of common law as well as to those of equity and admiralty jurisdiction. The answer was given, that such was the intention of the committee, and the jurisdiction of the federal court of appeals, under the Confederation, was referred to as having been so construed. The words "both as to law and fact" were thereupon introduced into the description of the appellate power, by unanimous consent.1 Various explanations were subsequently given, when the Constitution came before the people, of the force and meaning of these words. The most probable and the most acute of these explanations was that made by Hamilton in the Federalist,2 which limited the effect of the words, in reference to common law cases, to so much cognizance of the facts involved in a record as is implied in the application of the law to them by 1 Elliot, V. 483.

2 No. 81.

the appellate tribunal. But the truth was, the words were of very comprehensive import. While they were used in order to save to the Supreme Court power to revise the facts in equity and admiralty proceedings, they made no distinction, and imposed upon Congress no duty to make a distinction, between cases in equity and admiralty, and cases at common law; and although it might be true, that in some States the facts in all cases were tried by a jury, and that in some cases so tried there ought to be a power to revise the facts, yet it was not conceded that such a power ought to exist over the verdicts of juries in cases of common law jurisdiction. This explanation will serve to show the double purpose of the amendment made in 1791. The people of many of the States required an express guaranty that trial by jury should be preserved in suits at common law, and that the facts once tried by a jury should not be re-examined otherwise than according to the rules of the common law, which have established certain well-defined limits to the power of an appellate tribunal concerning the facts appearing to have been found by a jury.1

There was still another omission in the report of the committee, of great magnitude. They had included in the judicial power cases arising under the laws of the United States, but they had not embraced cases arising under the Constitution and under treaties. At the same time, the Constitution was to embrace not only the powers of the general govern

1 See the seventh Amendment.

ment, but also special restrictions upon the powers of the States; and not only the Constitution itself, but the laws made in pursuance of its provisions, and all treaties made under the authority of the United States, were to be the supreme law of the land. This supremacy could only be enforced by some prescribed action of some department of the general government. The idea of a legislative arrest, or veto, of State laws supposed to be in conflict with some provision of the national Constitution, or with a treaty or a law of the United States, had been abandoned. The conformity, moreover, of the laws of Congress to the provisions of the Constitution, could only be determined by the judicial power, when drawn into question in a judicial proceeding. The just and successful operation of the Constitution, therefore, required that, by some comprehensive provision, all judicial cases1 arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United Stateswhether the question should grow out of the action of a State legislature, or the action of any department of the general government - should be brought within the cognizance of the national judiciary. This provision was added by the Convention. It completed the due proportions and efficacy of this branch of the judicial power.

1 By "cases arising under the Constitution," &c. the framers of that instrument did not mean all cases in which any department of the government might have occasion to act under provisions of the Constitution, but all cases of a ju

dicial nature; that is, cases which, having assumed the form of judicial proceedings between party and party, involve the construction or operation of the Constitution of the United States. Elliot, V. 483.

« EelmineJätka »