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United States Supreme Court

96 U.S. 97

Davidson  v.  New Orleans


In the conclusion and general tenor of the opinion just read, I concur. But I think it narrows the scope of inquiry as to what is due process of law more than it should do.

It seems to me that private property may be taken by a State without due process of law in other ways than by mere direct enactment, or the want of a judicial proceeding. If a State, by a its laws, should authorize private property to be taken for public use without compensation (except to prevent its falling into the hands of an enemy, or to prevent the spread of a conflagration, or, in virtue of some other imminent necessity, where the property itself is the cause of the public detriment), I think it would be depriving a man of his property without due process of law. The exceptions noted imply that the nature and cause of the taking are proper to be considered. The distress-warrant issued in the case of Murray's Lessee et al. v. Hoboken Land and Improvement Co. (18 How. 272) was sustained, because it was in consonance with the usage of the English government and our State governments in collecting balances due from public accountants, and hence was 'due process of law.' But the court in that case expressly holds that 'it is manifest that it was not left to the legislative power to enact any process which might be devised. The article is a restraint on the legislative, as well as on the executive and judicial, power of the government, and cannot be so construed as to leave Congress free to make any process 'due process of law' by its mere will.' p. 276. I think, therefore, we are entitled, under the fourteenth amendment, not only to see that there is some process of law, but 'due process of law,' provided by the State law when a citizen is deprived of his property; and that, in judging what is 'due process of law,' respect must be had to the cause and object of the taking, whether under the taxing power, the power of eminent domain, or the power of assessment for local improvements, or none of these: and if found to be suitable or admissible in the special case, it will be adjudged to be 'due process of law;' but if found to be arbitrary, oppressive, and unjust, it may be declared to be not 'due process of law.' Such an examination may be made without interfering with that large discretion which every legislative power has of making wide modifications in the forms of procedure in each case, according as the laws, habits, customs, and preferences of the people of the particular State may require.

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).