Widow and Heirs of De La Lande v. Louisiana

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

59 U.S. 192

Widow and Heirs of De La Lande  v.  Louisiana

THIS case was brought up from the supreme court of Louisiana, by a writ of error issued under the 25th section of the judiciary act.

The case is stated in the opinion of the court.

It was argued by Mr. Janin, for the plaintiffs in error, and Mr. Benjamin, for defendant.

Mr. Janin made the following points:--

It is important to ascertain what points the supreme court of Louisiana really decied, for upon this depends the jurisdiction of this court. The decision turned principally upon the construction of the statutes of 1842 and 1850, and sums up a review of these statutes in the following words: 'From this view of the statute, we conclude that the tax attaches not only to property falling to alien heirs, who are non-residents, but also to the property falling to citizens of our own State who reside abroad.'

(Mr. Janin contended that under the 911, 912, 913, and 914th articles of the Code of Practice, a decision upon a petition for rehearing could be reviewed by this court.)

The Louisiana statutes, as expounded by the supreme court of the State, are contrary to two provisions of the constitution of the United States, namely:--

'Art. IV. sect. 2. The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.'

'Art. I. sect. 8. The congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.' 4 Wash. C. C. R. 380; Story on the Constitution, § 1806; 9 Wheat. 190.

Mr. Benjamin contended that the record did not show that the questions stated in the 25th section arose in the case, much less that they were decided as that section requires. A petition for rehearing can bring up no new question. 6 La. R. 193; 19 La. R. 48; 1 Rob. R. 330; 1 Annual, 406.

The defence in the state court assumed the position, that the state law, properly construed, applies only to heirs alien and nonresident, and alleged that the defendants were citizens of Louisiana and residents. The court, without determining whether defendants were citizens of Louisiana or not, held, that the proper construction of the law embraced them as non-residents, whether they were citizens of Louisiana or of France.

The alleged error is that, if the defendants are citizens of Louisiana, and if the court construed the statute aright, then the statute is unconstitutional. But the court below did not decide the defendants to be citizens of Louisiana, and this court therefore cannot examine the first question suggested, and it is equally without power to examine the second question, being without jurisdiction to revise a decision of a state court for error in the construction of a state statute.

The question of the jurisdiction of this court, in cases similar to the present, was again very recently passed on by the court, and its former decisions reviewed and affirmed, in a case from Louisiana, which cannot be distinguished in principle from the one now under consideration.

Grand Gulf Co. v. Marshall, 12 How. 166, and other cases still later, affirm the previous jurisprudence. Lawler et al. v. Walker et al. 14 How. 153; Robertson v. Coulter, 16 How. 106.

Mr. Justice McLEAN delivered the opinion of the court.


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).