Coleman v. Miller/Concurrence Black

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United States Supreme Court

307 U.S. 433

Coleman  v.  Miller

 Argued: April 17, 18, 1939. --- Decided: June 5, 1939

Concurring opinion by Mr. Justice BLACK, in which Mr. Justice ROBERTS, Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER and Mr. Justice DOUGLAS join.

Although, for reasons to be stated by Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, we believe this cause should be dismissed, the ruling of the Court just announced removes from the case the question of petitioners' standing to sue. Under the compulsion of that ruling, [1] Mr. Justice ROBERTS, Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and I have participated in the discussion of other questions considered by the Court and we concur in the result reached, but for somewhat different reasons.

The Constitution grants Congress exclusive power to control submission of constitutional amendments. Final determination by Congress that ratification by three-fourths of the States has taken place 'is conclusive upon the courts.' [2] In the exercise of that power, Congress, of course, is governed by the Constitution. However, whether submission, intervening procedure or Congressional determination of ratification conforms to the commands of the Constitution, call for decisions by a 'political department' of questions of a type which this Court has frequently designated 'political.' And decision of a 'political question' by the 'political department' to which the Constitution has committed it 'conclusively binds the judges, as well as all other officers, citizens, and subjects of * * * government.' [3] Proclamation under authority of Congress that an amendment has been ratified will carry with it a solemn insurance by the Congress that ratification has taken place as the Constitution commands. Upon this assurance a proclaimed amendment must be accepted as a part of the Constitution, leaving to the judiciary its traditional authority of interpretation. [4] To the extent that the Court's opinion in the present case even impliedly assumes a power to make judicial interpretation of the exclusive constitutional authority of Congress over submission and ratification of amendments, we are unable to agree.

The State court below assumed jurisdiction to determine whether the proper procedure is being followed between submission and final adoption. However, it is apparent that judicial review of or pronouncements upon a supposed limitation of a 'reasonable time' within which Congress may accept ratification; as to whether duly authorized State officials have proceeded properly in ratifying or voting for ratification; or whether a State may reverse its action once taken upon a proposed amendment; and kindred questions, are all consistent only with an ultimate control over the amending process in the courts. And this must inevitably embarrass the course of amendment by subjecting to judicial interference matters that we believe were intrusted by the Constitution solely to the political branch of government.

The Court here treats the amending process of the Constitution in some respects as subject to judicial construction, in others as subject to the final authority of the Congress. There is no disapproval of the conclusion arrived at in Dillon v. Gloss, [5] that the Constitution impliedly requires that a properly submitted amendment must die unless ratified within a 'reasonable time.' Nor does the Court now disapprove its prior assumption of power to make such a pronouncement. And it is not made clear that only Congress has constitutional power to determine if there is any such implication in Article V of the Constitution. On the other hand, the Court's opinion declares that Congress has the exclusive power to decide the 'political questions' of whether a State whose legislature has once acted upon a proposed amendment may subsequently reverse its position, and whether, in the circumstances of such a case as this, an amendment is dead because an 'unreasonable' time has elapsed. such division between the political and judicial branches of the government is made by Article V which grants power over the amending of the Constitution to Congress alone. Undivided control of that process has been given by the Article exclusively and completely to Congress. The process itself is 'political' in its entirety, from submission until an amendment becomes part of the Constitution, and is not subject to judicial guidance, control or interference at any point.

Since Congress has sole and complete control over the amending process, subject to no judicial review, the views of any court upon this process cannot be binding upon Congress, and insofar as Dillon v. Gloss, supra, attempts judicially to impose a limitation upon the right of Congress to determine final adoption of an amendment, it should be disapproved. If Congressional determination that an amendment has been completed and become a part of the Constitution is final and removed from examination by the courts, as the Court's present opinion recognizes, surely the steps leading to that condition must be subject to the scrutiny, control and appraisal of none save the Congress, the body having exclusive power to make that final determination.

Congress, possessing exclusive power over the amending process, cannot be bound by and is under no duty to accept the pronouncements upon that exclusive power by this Court or by the Kansas courts. Neither State nor Federal courts can review that power. Therefore, any judicial expression amounting to more than mere acknowledgment of exclusive Congressional power over the political process of amendment is a mere admonition to the Congress in the nature of an advisory opinion, given wholly without constitutional authority.


^1  Cf. Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619, 639, 640, 57 S.Ct. 904, 908, 81 L.Ed. 1307, 109 A.L.R. 1319.

^2  Leser v. Garnett, 258 U.S. 130, 137, 42 S.Ct. 217, 66 L.Ed. 505.

^3  Jones v. United States, 137 U.S. 202, 212, 11 S.Ct. 80, 83, 34 L.Ed. 691; Foster & Elam v. Neilson, 2 Pet. 253, 309, 314, 7 L.Ed. 415; Luther v. Borden et al., 7 How. 1, 42, 12 L.Ed. 581; In re Cooper, 143 U.S. 472, 503, 12 S.Ct. 453, 460, 36 L.Ed. 232; Pacific Telephone Co. v. Oregon, 223 U.S. 118, 32 S.Ct. 224, 56 L.Ed. 377; State of Ohio ex rel. Davis v. Hildebrant, 241 U.S. 565, 569, 36 S.Ct. 708, 710, 60 L.Ed. 1172; 'And in this view it is not material to inquire, nor is it the province of the court to determine, whether the executive ('political department') be right or wrong. It is enough to know that in the exercise of his constitutional functions, he has decided the question. Having done this under the responsibilities which belong to him, it is obligatory on the people and the government of the Union. * * * this court have laid down the rule that the action of the political branches of the government, in a matter that belongs to them, is conclusive.' Williams v. Suffolk Ins. Co., 13 Pet. 415, 420, 10 L.Ed. 226.

^4  Field v. Clark, 143 U.S. 649, 672, 12 S.Ct. 495, 497, 36 L.Ed. 294.

^5  256 U.S. 368, 375, 41 S.Ct. 510, 512, 65 L.Ed. 994.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).