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Trial by jury of all criminal offences (except in cases of impeachment) had been provided for by the committee of detail, and such trial was to be had in the State where the offence had been committed. The Convention, in order to secure the same right of a jury trial in cases where the offence had been committed out of any State, provided that the trial should be at such place or places as the Congress might by law have directed.1
These additions, with one other which included within the judicial power all cases to which the United States might be party; the transfer of the trial of impeachments to the Senate; and the transfer to the judiciary of controversies between the States respecting jurisdiction or territory, and controversies respecting land titles claimed under the grants of different States, -were the principal changes and improvements made in the plan of the committee.
The details of the arrangement will perhaps fail to interest the general reader. Yet I cannot but think that to understand the purpose and operation of this department of the national government would be a very desirable acquisition for any of my readers not already possessed of it; and having completed the description of the mode in which the judicial power was constructed, I shall conclude this part of the subject with a brief statement of its constitutional functions.
One of the leading purposes for which this branch
1 Elliot, V. 484. Constitution, Art. III. § 2, clause 3.
of the government was established, was to enable the Constitution to operate upon individuals, by securing their obedience to its commands, and by protecting them in the enjoyment of the rights and privileges which it confers. The government of the United States was eminently intended, among other purposes, to secure certain personal rights, and to exact certain personal duties. The Constitution confers on the general government a few special powers, but it confers them in order that the general government may accomplish for the people of each State the advantages and blessings for which the State governments are presumed to be, and have in fact proved to be, inadequate. It lays upon the governments and people of the States certain restrictions, and it lays them for the protection of the people against an exercise of State power deemed injurious to the general welfare. The government of the United States, therefore, is not only a government which seeks to protect the welfare and happiness of the people who live under it, but it is so constructed as to make its citizens directly and individually its subjects, exacting of them certain duties, and securing to them certain rights. It comes into this relation by reason of its supreme legislative power over certain interests, and the supreme authority of its restrictions upon the powers of the States; and it is enabled to make this relation effectual through its judicial department, which can take cognizance of every duty that the Constitution exacts and of every right that it confers, whenever they have assumed a
shape in which judicial power can act upon them. Let us take, as illustrations of this function of the national judiciary, a single instance of the obedience required by the Constitution, and also one of a right which it protects. The Constitution empowers Congress to lay and collect duties; which, when they are laid and incurred, become a debt due from the individual owner of the property on which they are assessed to the general government. Payment, in disputed cases, might have been left to be enforced by executive power; but the Constitution has interposed the judicial department, as the more peaceful agent, which can at once adjudicate between the government and the citizen, and compel the payment of what is found due. Again, the Constitution provides that no State shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts. An individual supposing himself to be aggrieved by such a law might have been left to obtain such redress as the judicial or legislative authorities of the State might be disposed to give him; but the Constitution enables him finally to resort to the national judiciary, which has power to relieve him against the operation of the law upon his personal rights, while the law itself may be left upon the statute-book of the State.
But while the judicial department of the general government was thus designed to enforce the duties and protect the rights of individuals, it is obvious that, in a system of government where such rights and duties are to be ascertained by the provisions of a fundamental law framed for the express purpose
of defining the powers of the general government and of each of its departments, and establishing certain limits to the powers of the States, the mere act of determining the existence of such rights or duties may involve an adjudication upon the question, whether acts of legislative or executive power are in conformity with the requirements of the fundamental law. On the one hand, the judicial department is to see that the legislative authority of the Union does not exact of individuals duties which are not within its prescribed powers, and that no department of the general government encroaches upon the rights of any other, or upon the rights of the States; and, on the other hand, it has to see that the legisla tive authority of the States does not encroach upon the powers conferred upon the general government, or violate the rights which the Constitution secures to the citizen. All this may be, and constantly is, involved in judicial inquiries into the rights, powers, functions, and duties of private citizens or public officers; and therefore, in order that the judicial power should be able effectually to discharge its functions, it must possess authority, for the purposes of the adjudication, to declare even an act of legislation to be void, which conflicts with any provision of the Constitution.
There were great differences of opinion in the Convention upon the expediency of giving to the judges, as expositors of the Constitution, power to declare a law to be void; and undoubtedly such a 1 Elliot, V. 429.
power, if introduced into some governments, would be legislative in its nature, whether the persons who were to exercise it should be called judges, or be clothed with the functions of a council of revision. But under a limited and written constitution, such a power, when given in the form and exercised in the mode provided for in the Constitution of the United States, is strictly judicial. This is apparent from the question that is to be determined. It arises in a judicial controversy respecting some right asserted by or against an individual; and the matter to be determined is whether an act of legislation, supposed to govern the case as law, is itself in conformity to the supreme law of the Constitution. In a government constituted like ours, this question must be determined by some one of its departments. If it be left with the executive to decide finally what laws shall be executed, because they are consistent with the Constitution, and what laws shall be suspended, because they violate the Constitution, this practical inconvenience may arise, namely, that the decision is made upon the abstract question, before a case to be governed by the law has arisen. If the legislature were empowered to determine, finally, that the laws which they enact are constitutional, the same practical difficulty would exist; and the individual, whose rights or interests may be affected by a law, when put into operation, would have no opportunity to be heard upon what in our form of government is a purely juridical question, on which every citizen should be heard, if he desires it, before