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Pease v. Peck/Dissent Campbell

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Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

59 U.S. 595

Pease  v.  Peck

Mr. Justice CAMPBELL, dissenting.

The decision of this case depends upon the following facts. The territorial government of Michigan was organized under the ordinance of 1787, for the government of the Northwest Territory. The governor and judges of that territory 'were authorized to adopt and publish such of the laws of the original States, criminal and civil, as may be necessary and best suited to the circumstances of the territory, and report them to congress from time to time; which laws shall remain in force until the organization of the general assembly therein, unless disapproved by congress. In 1820, the statute of limitations of Vermont was adopted by the council. That statute contains an exception which reads, 'persons imprisoned, or beyond seas, without the United States.'

The copy filed by the judges, and now found in the archives of Michigan, reads, 'persons imprisoned or without the United States,' the words 'beyond seas' being erased in that copy. It is apparent that the two statutes are to the same effect.

The copy, as it is now found in the archives of Michigan, was reported to congress. The printed publication of the laws was as follows: 'persons imprisoned or beyond seas, or without the United States.' This error has been continued through the various publications of the laws of Michigan until the present time. But I have not been able to find that the statute, as published, has ever received the sanction of the legislative department of the government. The act, in the various reports and references of the legislature, has been described as an act of a particular title, or as included in the general term of 'laws in force,' without identifying it as the act published in any of the compilations which have been circulated through the State. I have no evidence of any series of decisions of the courts of Michigan on this subject; none was produced on the argument; and the public opinion that may exist in Michigan as to what makes its statute law, must be a most fallible rule of judgment. The statute laws of a State exist in a permanent form, and are unchangeable, except by public authority, and are not to be ascertained from any popular impression on the subject. If any mischief has arisen from the vicious publications, it belongs to the legislative authority of the State to afford the indemnity. It is admitted that the statute, as contained in the original roll, will bar the plaintiff's claim, and that he is within the exception contained in the printed laws. The question for the court is, what is the evidence on which it should depend to prove the existence of the statute of a State? The act of congress of the 26th of May, 1790, to prescribe the mode in which the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings, in each State shall be authenticated, so as to take effect in every other State, provides, 'that the acts of the legislatures of the several States shall be authenticated by having the seal of their respective States affixed thereto,' 1 Stats. at Large, 122.

This court, in the United States v. Amedy, 11 Wheat. 392, said, 'no other or further formality is required; and the seal itself is supposed to import perfect verity. In Patterson v. Winn, 5 Pet. 233, the court said of the exemplification of a grant, that it is admissible in evidence, as being record proof of as high nature as the original. It is a recognition, in the most solemn form, by the government itself, of the validity of its own grant, under its own seal, and imports absolute verity as matter of record.' We have before us an exemplified copy of the act of Michigan, and from that evidence we learn what is preserved in her archives as the act adopted by the governor and judges in 1820, and referred to in the subsequent reports and acts of her legislature as 'An act for the limitation of suits on penal statutes, criminal prosecutions, and actions at law, adopted May 15, 1820.

The authorities are explicit to the effect that this evidence is the highest that can be offered of a statute. That the seal of the State, when properly affixed, is conclusive evidence of the existence of a statute, is the result of several state authorities. United States v. Johns, 4 Dall. 412; Henthorn v. Doe, 1 Blackf. 157; State v. Carr, 5 N. H. 367. The supreme court of Michigan have had this subject under consideration, and after repeated arguments and great deliberation, have decided that this printed statute does not form a part of the laws of that State, but that the original roll must be received as the exact record of the legislative will. The question is so entirely of a domestic character, and belongs so particularly to the constituted authorities of the State to determine, that I cannot bring myself to oppose their conclusion on the subject.

In my opinion the judgment of the circuit court is erroneous, and should be reversed.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the circuit court of the United States for the district of Michigan, and was argued by counsel; on consideration whereof, it is now here ordered and adjudged by this court that the judgment of the said circuit court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed, with costs and interests, until paid, at the same rate per annum that similar judgments bear in the courts of the State of Michigan.

Mr. Justice CAMPBELL and Mr. Justice DANIEL dissenting.

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).