American Security Trust Company v. Commissioners of the District of Columbia

Citation32 S.Ct. 553,224 U.S. 491,56 L.Ed. 856
Decision Date29 April 1912
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Mr. William G. Johnson for the petition.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 491-493 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice Holmes delivered the opinion of the court:

This is an application for a writ of error to the court of appeals of the District of Columbia under the new Judicial Code. Act of March 3, 1911, chap. 231. 36 Stat. at L. 1087.1 The court of appeals denied the writ. Thereupon application was made to the Chief Justice. He referred it to the court. Briefs were called for and one was submitted by the applicants. It now is to be decided whether the writ should be allowed.

By § 250 of the Code any final judgment or decree of the court of appeals may be re-examined 'in the following cases: . . . Sixth. In cases in which the construction of any law of the United States is drawn in question by the defendant.' This is the clause relied upon. The case was a suit for the condemnation of land, brought by the commissioners under a special act of February 6, 1909, chap. 75, 35 Stat. at L. 597, for the extension of New York avenue. By that act the procedure was to follow subchapter 1 of chapter 15 of the District Code, which provides, among other things, for the separate assessment of benefits. Act of March 3, 1901, chap. 854. 31 Stat. at L. 1189, 1266. The jury were instructed that, by the extension of the avenue, they were to understand its establishment, laying out, and completion for all the ordinary uses of a public thoroughfare. The applicants contended that, as there was no present provision for grading, paving, laying water mains or sewers, or otherwise opening the avenue to traffic, any advantage that would accrue from such improvements, if made, must be disregarded; and so they say that they drew the construction of the special act and perhaps of the Code in question, and that these were laws of the United States.

We do not stop to consider whether any question of construction properly can be said to have been raised, rather than a question of general law in the application of words that were colorless so far as the point in controversy was concerned. It might not be just to assume that the general averment of the application was not justified by exceptions more clearly turning on the construction of the local laws than the example given in the brief. The ground on which the writ was refused by the court of appeals was that the words quoted from § 250 should not be construed to apply to the purely local laws of the District, and with that view we agree.

Of course there is no doubt that the special act of Congress was, in one sense, a law of the United States. It well may be that it would fall within the meaning of the same words in the third clause of the same section: 'Cases involving the constitutionality of any law of the United States.' Parsons v. District of Columbia, 170 U. S. 45, 42 L. ed. 943, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 521. But it needs no authority to show that the same phrase may have different meanings in different connections. Some reasons for strict...

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52 cases
  • Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • February 24, 1959
    ...and practice, with due regard to the consequences of the construction given them. See American Security & Trust Co. v. Commissioners of the District of Columbia, 224 U.S. 491, 32 S.Ct. 553, 56 L.Ed. 856; Boston Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States, 278 U.S. 41, 49 S.Ct. 52, 73 L.Ed. 21 E.g., ......
  • Maine v. Taylor
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • June 23, 1986
    ...80 S.Ct. 568, 580, 4 L.Ed.2d 568 (1960) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting), in turn quoting American Security & Trust Co. v. District of Columbia, 224 U.S. 491, 495, 32 S.Ct. 553, 554, 56 L.Ed. 856 (1912). Section 1254(2) serves to ensure that a state statute is struck down by the federal judici......
  • Williams v. Austrian
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • June 16, 1947
    ...courts which interfere with the effective discharge of their functions. See, for instance, American Security and Trust Co. v. District of Columbia, 224 U.S. 491, 32 S.Ct. 553, 56 L.Ed. 856, and Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 250, 251, 61 S.Ct. 480, 483, 85 L.Ed. 800. These are con......
  • John King Mfg Co v. City Council of August, 392
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • May 14, 1928
    ...859, all construing the Circuit Courts of Appeals Act, March 3, 1891, c. 517, 26 Stat. 826; American Security & Trust Co. v. District of Columbia, 224 U. S. 491, 495, 32 S. Ct. 553, 56 L. Ed. 856, construing section 250 of the Judicial Code; Inter-Island Steam Navigation Co., Limited, v. Wa......
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