The Contracts Clause and Property Rights under the Constitution

In the early days of the Supreme Court the judiciary laboured for brought protection of contracts in order to encourage investment capital. By any standard the court achieved considerable success with contracts cause in the Constitution being figured in more Supreme Court decisions and any other section of the Constitution during the 19th century. Despite criticism of some of the rulings, there was little hostility to the courts core belief that the Federal court should be safeguarded and establish economic rights.

In the early period of American democracy there were new attitudes in the US Supreme Court. Pres Andrew Jackson named Roger Cheney as chief Justice in 1837 and under this judge’s leadership the court shaped constitutional law to harmonise with Pres Jackson’s view of the notion of states rights. His philosophy included a hostility to special privilege and strict construction of the Constitution. Despite a shift in emphasis, however, the court did not fundamentally depart from the constitutional principles of the early times. Justice Cheney shared Marshall’s economic values, especially the need to protect private property and to promote economic growth. To be sure, there were differences between the judicial approach obtaining and Marshall. Kenny limited to reach of the contracts cause and allow the states greater flexibility confession economic policy. This was illustrated in cases such as Charles River bridge against Warren breach which was heard in 1837 in which the chief Justice rejected the notion of implied corporate privilege.   He emphasized the principle that corporate grants must be strictly construed, doctrine that affirmed legislative control over economic policy. Sensitive to the relationship between law and technology he further asserted that recognition of implied corporate privileges would stymie economic progress. In the judge’s mind, existing property rights could sometimes be destroyed to make room for innovations and improvements.

The power of eminent domain constituted another limit on the scope of contracts cause. In the case of West River bridge company against Dix of 1848 the court held that the contracts cause did not protect a Corporation against exercise of eminent domain. The justices reasoned that all contracts were subject to the state is paramount power of eminent domain. The justices, however, enforce the contracts cause in cases involving debt relief laws, exemptions from taxation, banking regulations and other similar elements of legislative provisions. In the case of bronze and against Kinsey of 1843 the court heard a challenge to Illinois statutes that retroactively limited mortgage foreclosure sales and gave mortgagors broad rights to redeem foreclose property. Writing for the court, the Chief Justice found the Illinois statutes to be unconstitutional abrogation of contract.

The use of the eminent domain doctrine to take a private property rights jurisprudence did not receive much attention from the Federal courts before the civil war. The Constitution makes no direct reference to the power of eminent domain, the the fifth amendment requires the private property be taken only to public use and upon payment of just compensation. In than warns C, Justice Paterson concluded that the despotic power of taking private property exists in every government and the government should not subsist without it. He stressed, however, the compensation must be paid to landowners and their determination of land value was judicial, not a legislative function.

In practice, the takings clause of the fifth amendment did not bulk large during the antebellum era. The most significant Supreme Court cases during this time included Baron against Baltimore of 1833 in which the city of Baltimore sought to increase the access of shippers by undertaking harbour improvements. The city don’t were that water from the plaintiffs wharf greatly reducing its value in the plaintiff claimed compensation for his loss under the fifth amendment. Rejecting this contention, the court held that the fifth amendment restricted the Federal government did not apply to the states.

Like the takings clause, the due process clause of the fifth amendment played almost no role in a constitutional protection of economic interests before the civil war. By the mid-19th century, however, Federal courts began to wrestle with substantive interpretations of the notion of due process. Substantive due process first appeared in Federal jurisprudence in the controversial 1857 case of Scott against Stanford. The chief Justice of the court interpreted the due process clause is placing a limitation on the power of Congress to exclude sleigh property from the territories. The dread Scott ruling was effectively superseded by the civil war and the 14th amendment that the concept of substantive due process was destined for a robot’s rebirth in a later generation. Hence the property conscious jurisprudence of the antebellum era was a precursor of what lay ahead for constitutionalism later in the century.

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