Coleman v. Miller/Dissent Butler

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United States Supreme Court

307 U.S. 433

Coleman  v.  Miller

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

Mr. Justice BUTLER, dissenting.

The Child Labor Amendment was proposed in 1924; more than 13 years elapsed before the Kansas legislature voted, as the decision just announced holds, to ratify it. Petitioners insist that more than a reasonable time had elapsed and that, therefore, the action of the state legislature is without force. But this Court now holds that the question is not justiciable, relegates it to the 'consideration of the Congress when, in the presence of certified ratifications by three-fourths of the States the time arrives for the promulgation of the adoption of the amendment' and declares that the decision by Congress would not be subject to review by the courts.

In Dillon v. Gloss, 256 U.S. 368, 41 S.Ct. 510, 511, 65 L.Ed. 994, one imprisoned for transportation of intoxicating liquor in violation of § 3 of the National Prohibition Act, instituted habeas corpus proceedings to obtain his release on the ground that the Eighteenth Amendment was invalid because the resolution proposing it declared that it should not be operative unless ratified within seven years. The Amendment was ratified in less than a year and a half. We definitely held that Article V impliedly requires amendments submitted to be ratified within a reasonable time after proposal; that Congress may fix a reasonable time for ratification, and that the period of seven years fixed by the Congress was reasonable.

'It will be seen that this article says nothing about the time within which ratification may be had-neither that it shall be unlimited nor that it shall be fixed by Congress. What then is the reasonable inference or implication? Is it that ratification may be had at any time, as within a few years, a century or even a longer period; or that it must be had within some reasonable period which Congress is left free to define? * * *

'We do not find anything in the article which suggests that an amendment once proposed is to be open to ratification for all time, or that ratification in some of the states may be separated from that in others by many years and yet be effective. We do find that which strongly suggests the contrary. First, proposal and ratification are not treated as unrelated acts, but as succeeding steps in a single endeavor, the natural inference being that they are not to be widely separated in time. Secondly, it is only when there is deemed to be a necessity therefor that amendments are to be proposed, the reasonable implication being that when proposed they are to be considered and disposed of presently. Thirdly, as ratification is but the expression of the approbation of the people and is to be effective when had in three-fourths of the states, there is a fair implication that it must be sufficiently contemporaneous in that number of states to reflect the will of the people in all sections at relatively the same period, which of course ratification scattered through a long series of years would not do. These considerations and the general purport and spirit of the article lead to the conclusion expressed by Judge Jameson (in his Constitutional Conventions, 4th ed. § 585) 'that an alteration of the Constitution proposed to-day has relation to the sentiment and the felt needs of to-day, and that, if not ratified early while that sentiment may fairly be supposed to exist, it ought to be regarded as waived, and not again to be voted upon, unless a second time proposed by Congress.' That this is the better conclusion becomes even more manifest when what is comprehended in the other view is considered; for, according to it, four amendments proposed long ago-two in 1789, one in 1810 and one in 1861-are still pending and in a situation where their ratification in some of the states many years since by representatives of generations now largely forgotten may be effectively supplemented in enough more states to make three-fourths by representatives of the present or some future generation. To that view few would be able to subscribe, and in our opinion it is quite untenable. We conclude that the fair inference or implication from article 5 is that the ratification must be within some reasonable time after the proposal.

'Of the power of Congress, keeping within reasonable limits, to fix a definite period for the ratification we entertain no doubt. * * * Whether a definite period for ratification shall be fixed, so that all may know what it is and speculation on what is a reasonable time may be avoided, is, in our opinion, a matter of detail which Congress may determine as an incident of its power to designate the mode of ratification. It is not questioned that seven years, the period fixed in this instance, was reasonable, if power existed to fix a definite time; nor could it well be questioned considering the periods within which prior amendments were ratified.'

Upon the reasoning of our opinion in that case, I would hold that more than a reasonable time had elapsed [*] and that the judgment of the Kansas supreme court should be reversed.

The point, that the question-whether more than a reasonable time had elapsed-is not justiciable but one for Congress after attempted ratification by the requisite number of States, was not raised by the parties or by the United States appearing as amicus curiae; it was not suggested by us when ordering reargument. As the Court, in the Dillon case, did directly decide upon the reasonableness of the seven years fixed by the Congress, it ought not now, without hearing argument upon the point, hold itself to lack power to decide whether more than 13 years between proposal by Congress and attempted ratification by Kansas is reasonable.

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS joins in this opinion.