209 U.S. 123 (1908), 10, Ex Parte Young

Docket Nº:No. 10, Original
Citation:209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714
Party Name:Ex Parte Young
Case Date:March 23, 1908
Court:United States Supreme Court

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209 U.S. 123 (1908)

28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714

Ex Parte Young

No. 10, Original

United States Supreme Court

March 23, 1908

Argued December 2, 3, 1907



While this court will not take jurisdiction if it should not, it must take jurisdiction if it should. It cannot, as the legislature may, avoid meeting a measure because it desires so to do.

In this case, a suit by a stockholder against a corporation to enjoin the directors and officers from complying with the provisions of a State statute, alleged to be unconstitutional, was properly brought within Equity Rule 94 of this court.

An order of the Circuit Court committing one for contempt for violation of a decree entered in a suit of which it did not have jurisdiction is unlawful, and, in such case, upon proper application, this court will discharge the person so held.

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Although the determination of whether a railway rate prescribed by a state statute is so low as to be confiscatory involves a question of fact, its solution raises a Federal question, and the sufficiency of rates is a judicial question over which the proper Circuit Court has jurisdiction, as one arising under the Constitution of the United States.

Whether a state statute is unconstitutional because the penalties for its violation are so enormous that persons affected thereby are prevented from resorting to the courts for the purpose of determining the validity of the statute, and are thereby denied the equal protection of the law, and their property rendered liable to be taken without due process of law, is a Federal question and gives the Circuit Court jurisdiction.

Whether the state railroad rate statute involved in this case, although on its face relating only to intrastate rates, was an interference with interstate commerce held to raise a Federal question which could not be considered frivolous.

A state railroad rate statute which imposes such excessive penalties that parties affected are deterred from testing its validity in the courts denies the carrier the equal protection of the law without regard to the question of insufficiency of the rates prescribed; it is within the jurisdiction, and is the duty, of the Circuit Court to inquire whether such rates are so low as to be confiscatory, and, if so, to permanently enjoin the railroad company, at the suit of one of its stockholders, from putting them in force, and it has power pending such inquiry to grant a temporary injunction to the same effect.

While there is no rule permitting a person to disobey a statute with impunity at least once for the purpose of testing its validity, where such validity can only be determined by judicial investigation and construction, a provision in the statute which imposes such severe penalties for disobedience of its provisions as to intimidate the parties affected thereby from resorting to the courts to test its validity practically prohibits those parties from seeking such judicial construction, and denies them the equal protection of the law.

The attempt of a State officer to enforce an unconstitutional statute is a proceeding without authority of, and does not affect, the State in its sovereign or governmental capacity, and is an illegal act, and the officer is stripped of his official character and is subjected in his person to the consequences of his individual conduct. The State has no power to impart to its officer immunity from responsibility to the supreme authority of the United States.

When the question of the validity of a State statute with reference to the Federal Constitution has been first raised in a Federal court, that court has the right to decide it to the exclusion of all other courts.

It is not necessary that the duty of a State officer to enforce a statute be declared in that statute itself in order to permit his being joined as a party defendant from enforcing it; if, by virtue of his office, he has some connection with the enforcement of the act, it is immaterial whether it arises by common general law or by statute.

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While the courts cannot control the exercise of the discretion of an executive officer, an injunction preventing such officer from enforcing an unconstitutional statute is not an interference with his discretion.

The Attorney General of the State of Minnesota, under his common law power and the state statutes, has the general authority imposed upon him of enforcing constitutional statutes of the State, and is a proper party defendant to a suit brought to prevent the enforcement of a State statute on the ground of its unconstitutionality.

While a Federal court cannot interfere in a criminal case already pending in a state court, and while, as a general rule, a court of equity cannot enjoin criminal proceedings, those rules do not apply when such proceedings are brought to enforce an alleged unconstitutional state statute, after the unconstitutionality thereof has become the subject of inquiry in a suit pending in a Federal court which has first obtained jurisdiction thereover; and, under such circumstances, the Federal court has the right in both civil and criminal cases to hold and maintain such jurisdiction to the exclusion of all other courts.

While making a state officer who has no connection with the enforcement of an act alleged to be unconstitutional a party defendant is merely making him a party as a representative of the State, and thereby amounts to making the State a party within the prohibition of the Eleventh Amendment, individuals, who, as officers of the State, are clothed with some duty in regard to the enforcement of the laws of the State, and who threaten and are about to commence an action, either civil or criminal, to enforce an unconstitutional state statute, may be enjoined from so doing by a Federal court.

Under such conditions as are involved in this case, the Federal court may enjoin an individual or a state officer from enforcing a state statute on account of its unconstitutionality, but it may not restrain the state court from acting in any case brought before it either of a civil or criminal nature, or prevent any investigation or action by a grand jury.

An injunction by a Federal court against a State court would violate the whole scheme of this Government, and it does not follow that, because an individual may be enjoined from doing certain things, a court may be similarly enjoined.

No adequate remedy at law, sufficient to prevent a court of equity from acting, exists in a case where the enforcement of an unconstitutional state rate statute would require the complainant to carry merchandise at confiscatory rates if it complied with the statute, and subject it to excessive penalties in case it did not comply therewith, and its validity was finally sustained.

While a common carrier sued at common law for penalties under, or on indictment for violation of, a state rate statute might interpose as a defense the unconstitutionality of the statute on account of the confiscatory character of the rates prescribed, a jury cannot intelligently pass upon such a matter; the proper method is to determine the constitutionality of the statute in a court of equity in which the opinions of experts may be

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taken and the matter referred to a master to make the needed computations and to find the necessary facts on which the court may act.

A state rate statute is to be regarded as prima facie valid, and the onus rests on the carrier to prove the contrary.

The railroad interests of this country are of great magnitude, and the thousands of persons interested therein are entitled to protection from the laws and from the courts equally with the owners of all other kinds of property, and the courts having jurisdiction, whether Federal or State, should at all times be open to them, and, where there is no adequate remedy at law, the proper course to protect their rights is by suit in equity in which all interested parties are made defendants.

While injunctions against the enforcement of a State rate statute should not be granted by a Federal court except in a case reasonably free from doubt, the equity jurisdiction of the Federal court has been constantly exercised for such purpose.

The Circuit Court of the United States having, in an action brought by a stockholder of the Northern Pacific Railway Company against the officers of the road, certain shippers, and the Attorney General and certain other officials of the State of Minnesota, held that a railroad rate statute of Minnesota was unconstitutional, and enjoined all the defendants from enforcing such statute, and, the Attorney General having refused to comply with such order, the Circuit Court fined and committed him for contempt, and this court refused to discharge him on habeas corpus.

An original application was made to this court for leave to file a petition for writs of habeas corpus and certiorari in behalf of Edward T. Young, petitioner, as Attorney General of the State of Minnesota.

Leave was granted and a rule entered directing the United States marshal for the district of Minnesota, third division, who held the petitioner in his custody, to show cause why such petition should not be granted.

The marshal, upon the return of the order to show cause, justified his detention on the petitioner by virtue of an order of the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Minnesota, which adjudged the petitioner guilty of contempt of that court, and directed that he be fined the sum of $100, and that he should dismiss the mandamus proceedings brought by him in the name and in behalf of the State, in the Circuit Court of the State, and that he should stand committed to the custody of the marshal until that order was obeyed. The case

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involves the validity of the order of the Circuit Court committing him for contempt.

The facts are...

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