Calder v. Bull/Concurrence Paterson
Paterson, Justice. The Constitution of Connecticut is Made up of usages, and it appears that its Legislature have, from the beginning, exercised the power of granting new trials. This has been uniformly the case till the year 1762, when this power was, by a legislative act, imparted to the superior and county courts. But the act does not remove or annihilate the preexisting power of the Legislature, in this particular; it only communicates to other authorities a concurrence of jurisdiction, as to the awarding of new trials. And the fact is, that the Legislature have, in two instances, exercised this power since the passing of the law in 1762. They acted in a double capacity, as a house of legislation, with undefined authority, and also as a court of judicature in certain exigencies. Whether the latter arose from the indefinite nature of their legislative powers, or in some other way, it is not necessary to discuss. From the best information, however, which I have been able to collect on this subject, it appears, that the Legislature, or general court of Connecticut, originally possessed, and exercised all legislative, executive, and judicial authority; and that, from time to time, they distributed the two latter in such manner as they thought proper; but without parting with the general superintending power, or the right of exercising the same, whenever they should judge it expedient. But be this as it may, it is sufficient for the present to observe that they have on certain occasions exercised judicial authority from the commencement of their civil polity. This usage makes up part of the Constitution of Connecticut, and we are bound to consider it as such, unless it be inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States. True it is, that the awarding of new trials falls properly within the province of the judiciary; but if the Legislature of Connecticut have been in the uninterrupted exercise of this authority, in certain cases, we must, in such cases, respect their decisions as flowing from a competent jurisdiction, or constitutional organ. And therefore we may, in the present instance, consider the Legislature of the state, as having acted in their customary judicial capacity. If so, there is an end of the question. For if the power, thus exercised, comes more properly within the description of a judicial than of a legislative power; and if by usage or the [p396] Constitution, which, in Connecticut, are synonymous terms, the Legislature of that state acted in both capacities; then in the case now before us, it would be fair to consider the awarding of a new trial, as an act emanating from the judiciary side of the department. But as this view of the subject militates against the Plaintiffs in error, their counsel has contended for a reversal of the judgment, on the ground, that the awarding of a new trial, was the effect of a legislative act, and that it is unconstitutional, because an ex post facto law. For the sake of ascertaining the meaning of these terms, I will consider the resolution of the General court of Connecticut, as the exercise of a legislative and not a judicial authority. The question, then, which arises on the pleadings in this cause, is, whether the resolution of the Legislature of Connecticut, be an ex post facto law, within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States? I am of opinion, that it is not. The words, ex post facto, when applied to a law, have a technical meaning, and in legal phraseology, refer to crimes, pains, and penalties. Judge Blackstone's description of the terms is clear and accurate. "There is, says he, a still more unreasonable method than this, which is called making of laws ex post facto, when after an action, indifferent in itself, is committed, the Legislator, then, for the first time, declares it to have been a crime, and inflicts a punishment upon the person who has committed it. Here it is impossible, that the party could foresee that an action, innocent when it was done, should be afterwards converted to guilt by a subsequent law; he had, therefore, no cause to abstain from it; and all punishment for not abstaining, must, of consequence, be cruel and unjust." 1 Bl. Com. 46. Here the meaning annexed to the terms ex post facto laws, unquestionably refers to crimes, and nothing else. The historic page abundantly evinces, that the power of passing such laws should be withheld from legislators; as it is a dangerous instrument in the hands of bold, unprincipled, aspiring, and party men, and has been too often used to effect the most detestable purposes.
On inspecting such of our state Constitutions, as take notice of law made ex post facto, we shall find, that they are understood in the same sense.
The Constitution of Massachusetts, article 24th of the Declaration of rights:
"Laws made to punish for actions done before the existence of such law, and which have not been declared crimes by preceding laws, are unjust, oppressive, and inconsistent with the fundamental principles of a free government."
The Constitution of Delaware, article 11th of the Declaration of Rights:
[p397] "That retrospective laws punishing offences committed before the existence of such laws, are oppressive and unjust, and ought not to be made."
The Constitution of Maryland, article 15th of the Declaration of Rights:
"That retrospective laws, punishing facts committed before the existence of such laws, and by them only declared criminal, are oppressive, unjust and incompatible with liberty; wherefore no ex post facto law ought to be made."
The Constitution of North Carolina, article 24th of the Declaration of rights:
"That retrospective laws, punishing facts committed before the existence of such laws, and by them only declared criminal; are oppressive, unjust, and incompatible with liberty; wherefore no ex post facto law ought to be made."
From the above passages it appears, that ex post facto laws have an appropriate signification; they extend to penal statutes, and no further; they are restricted in legal estimation to the creation, and, perhaps, enhancement of crimes, pains and penalties. The enhancement of a crime, or penalty, seems to come within the same mischief as the creation of a crime or penalty; and therefore they may be classed together.
Again, the words of the Constitution of the United States are, "That no State shall pass any "bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts." Article 1st. section 10.
Where is the necessity or use of the later words, if a law impairing the obligation of contracts, be comprehended within the terms ex post facto law? It is obvious from the specification of contracts in the last member of the clause, that the framers of the Constitution, did not understand or use the words in the sense contended for on the part of the Plaintiffs in Error. They understood and used the words in their known and appropriate signification, as referring to crimes, pains, and penalties, and no further. The arrangement of the distinct members of this section, necessarily points to this meaning.
I had an ardent desire to have extended the provision in the Constitution to retrospective laws in general. There is neither policy nor safety in such laws; and, therefore, I have always had a strong aversion against them. It may, in general, be truly observed of retrospective laws of every description, that they neither accord with sound legislation, nor the fundamental principles of the social compact. But on full consideration, I am convinced, that ex post facto laws must be limited in the manner already expressed; they must be taken in their technical, which is also their common and general, acceptation, and are not to be understood in their literal sense.