289 U.S. 553 (1933), 728, Williams v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 728
Citation:289 U.S. 553, 53 S.Ct. 751, 77 L.Ed. 1372
Party Name:Williams v. United States
Case Date:May 29, 1933
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 553

289 U.S. 553 (1933)

53 S.Ct. 751, 77 L.Ed. 1372



United States

No. 728

United States Supreme Court

May 29, 1933

Argued April 12, 1933



1. The judicial power of the Court of Claims is not vested in virtue of Art. III of the Constitution, so as to bring its judges within the protection of that Article as to tenure of office and compensation. Ex parte Bakelite Corp., 279 U.S. 438. Expressions in United States v. Klein, 13 Wall. 128, and other cases criticized. Pp. 567-568, 581.

2. The Court of Claims, originally an administrative or advisory body, is, under the existing laws, a court exercising judicial power and capable of rendering final judgments reviewable by this Court. P. 564.

3. Judicial power, apart from that defined by Art. III of the Constitution, may be conferred by Congress upon legislative courts as well as upon constitutional courts; which is exemplified in the instances of territorial courts, and also of state courts when sitting in naturalization proceedings. P. 565.

4. The judicial power of Art. III does not attach to the Court of Claims in virtue of the consent of the United States to be sued therein coupled with the clause of that Article extending the judicial power of the United States to "controversies to which the United States shall be a party." Expressions in Minnesota v. Hitchcock, 185 U.S. 373, and Kansas v. United States, 204 U.S. 331, disapproved. Pp. 571, 577.

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5. Article III, § 2, cl. 1 of the Constitution declares that the judicial power of the United States shall extend to "all" of some of the classes of cases named therein, but omits the word "all" in naming other classes, including "controversies to which the United States shall be a party." The omission was not accidental, but expresses, ex industria, a limitation of meaning. P. 572.

6. In expounding the Constitution, every word must have its due force and appropriate meaning, and no word is to be regarded as unnecessarily used or needlessly added. P. 573.

7. In the light of the rule of sovereign immunity from suit, which was well settled and understood when the Constitution was framed, the proposition that Art. III intended to include suits against the United States is inadmissible. Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419, and Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, involving suits against states, discussed. P. 573.

8. That clause must be construed in accord with the construction put upon it by the first Judiciary Act, as though it read "controversies to which the United States shall be a party plaintiff or petitioner." Pp. 573, 577.

9. Controversies to which the United States may by statute be made a party defendant, at least as a general rule, lie wholly outside the scope of the judicial power vested by Art. III in the constitutional courts. P. 577.

10. Where a controversy is of such a character as to require the exercise of the judicial power defined by Art. III, jurisdiction thereof can be conferred only on courts established in virtue of that Article, and Congress is without power to vest that judicial power in any other judicial tribunal, or, of course, in an executive officer or administrative or executive board, since "they are incapable of receiving it." American Ins. Co. v. Canter, 1 Pet. 511. P. 578.

11. Since all matters made cognizable by the Court of Claims are equally susceptible of legislative or executive determination, they are matters in respect of which there is no constitutional right to a judicial remedy, and the authority to inquire into and decide them may constitutionally be conferred on a nonjudicial officer or body. P. 579.

12. A power which may be devolved at the will of Congress upon any of the three departments plainly is not within the doctrine of the separation and independent exercise of governmental powers contemplated by the tripartite distribution of such powers P. 580.

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13. The jurisdiction of the Court of Claims to award compensation for property taken by power of eminent domain, and its jurisdiction to adjudicate setoffs, etc., claimed by the United States, are consistent with its status as a legislative court. P. 581.

14. Obiter dicta may be respected, but ought not to control the judgment in a subsequent suit when the very point is presented for decision. P. 568.

Response to questions certified by the Court of Claims, arising in a suit brought in that court by one of its judges against the United States for the purpose of testing the constitutionality of a reduction of his official salary. Cf. the preceding report of O'Donoghue v. United States, ante, p. .516. This case was argued with that one.

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SUTHERLAND, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

Plaintiff is, and since November 11, 1929, has been, a judge of the Court of Claims of the United States. Since his entry upon the duties of his office, and until June 30, 1932, he received a salary at the rate of $12,500 per annum, as fixed by the Act of December 13, 1926, c. 6, § 1, 44 Stat. 919. Since that date, he has been paid at the rate of $10,000 per annum under a ruling of the Comptroller General of the United States. Compare O'Donoghue v. United States, ante, p. 516.

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The Legislative Appropriation Act of June 30, 1932 (c. 314, 47 Stat. 382, 402) in part provides:

Sec. 107. (a) During the fiscal year ending June 30, 1933 --

* * * *

(5) the salaries and retired pay of all judges (except judges whose compensation may not, under the Constitution, be diminished during their continuance in office), if such salaries or retired pay are at a rate exceeding $10,000 per annum, shall be at the rate of $10,000 per annum.

The Comptroller General, as the basis for his ruling, took the view that the Court of Claims is a "legislative" court, and not a "constitutional" court created under Art. III, § 1, of the Constitution, which provides:

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the Supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall at stated Times receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.

On February 8, 1933, this suit was brought in the Court of Claims to recover the amount of the difference between the statutory rate of $12,500 and the smaller amount paid under the ruling of the Comptroller General. The suit was brought by plaintiff in the court of which he is a member because, as it is averred, no other court or remedy was open to him. Plaintiff's petition rests upon the contention that the Court of Claims is a constitutional court, created in virtue of the power of Congress to constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court, whose judges

shall hold their offices during good behavior, and shall at stated times receive for their services a compensation which shall not be diminished

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during their continuance in office.

The government demurred to the petition upon the ground that the judges of the Court of Claims are not judges of an "inferior court" within the meaning of that constitutional provision. The Court of Claims, without passing upon the demurrer, certified to this Court the following questions, upon which it desires instructions, under § 3(a) of the Act of February 13, 1925, c. 229, 43 Stat. 936, 939:

I. Does Section 1, Article III of the Constitution of the United States apply to the Court of Claims and forbid a reduction of the compensation of the Judges thereof during their continuance in office?

II. Does the provision of Section 2, Article III, of the Constitution, wherein it is stated that "The Judicial Power shall extend . . . to controversies to which the United States shall be a party," apply to the Court of Claims, and does this provision authorize the creation and establishment of that Court?

III. Can the compensation of a judge of the Court of Claims be lawfully diminished during his continuance in office?

In the O'Donoghue case, supra, we have discussed in some detail the purposes which led the framers of the Constitution to incorporate in that instrument the provisions in respect of the permanent tenure of office and the undiminishable character of the compensation of the judges, and have pointed out that the judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia plainly come within the spirit and reason of the compensation provision, and must be held to fall within its intent unless that conclusion is precluded by other considerations. Much of what is there said may also be said in respect of the Court of Claims. It is a court of great importance, dealing with claims against the United States which, in the aggregate, amount to a vast sum every year. The questions which it considers call for

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the exercise of a high order of intelligence, learning, and ability. The preservation of its independence is a matter of public concern. The sole function of the court being to decide between the government and private suitors, a condition, on the part of the judges, of entire dependence upon the legislative pleasure for the tenure of their offices and for a continuance of adequate compensation during their service in office, to say the least, is not desirable.

But these considerations, though obvious enough, are not sufficient, standing alone, to support a conclusion that the Court of Claims comes within the reach of the judicial article in respect of tenure of office and compensation. The integrity of such a conclusion must rest not upon...

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