Barnes v. District of Columbia

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtHUNT
Citation91 U.S. 540,23 L.Ed. 440
Decision Date01 October 1875

MR. JUSTICE HUNT delivered the opinion of the court.

The municipal corporation, 'The District of Columbia,' was organized under the act of Congress of Feb. 21, 1871. 16 Stat. 419.

The first section of the act creates a municipal corporation by the name of 'The District of Columbia,' with power to sue, be sued, contract, have a seal, and 'exercise all other powers of a municipal corporation, not inconsistent with the laws and constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act.'

By sect. 2 the executive power is vested in a governor, to be appointed by the President, with the consent of the Senate, and to hold his office for four years. Bills passed by the council, and house of delegates, were to be presented to him for approval or rejection.

A secretary of the District is also provided for, whose duties are specified. The legislative power in the District is vested in two bodies,—a council, and house of delegates,—called a legislative assembly; which power it was in the eighteenth section declared should 'extend to all rightful subjects of legislation within said District, consistent with the Constitution of the United States and the provisions of this act.'

It is enacted that the President, with the consent of the Senate, shall appoint a board of health, consisting of five persons, whose duties are pointed out. The salaries of the governor and secretary are prescribed, and are to be paid 'at the treasury of the United States.' The salaries of the members of the legislative assembly are prescribed; but it is not declared where or how or by whom they shall be paid, unless they are included in the general tersm of sect. 38.

By the thirty-seventh section it is provided that there shall be a 'board of public works, to consist of the governor and four other persons to be appointed by the President, with the consent of the Senate, who shall have entire control of and make all regulations which they shall deem necessary for keeping in repair the streets, avenues, and alleys and sewers of the city, and all other works which may be intrusted to their charge by the legislative assembly or Congress.' They are also required to disburse the money collected for such purposes, and to make an annual report of their proceedings to the legislative assembly, and to furnish a duplicate of the same to the governor.

The charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown are declared to be repealed, except that they are continued in force for certain specified purposes not necessary to be here considered.

The statute creating this corporation, in its first section, declares it to be a body corporate, not only with power to contract, to sue and be sued, and to have a seal, but also that it is a body corporate for municipal purposes, and that it shall exercise all other powers of a municipal corporation, not inconsistent with the constitution and laws of the United States and the provisions of this act.

A municipal corporation, in the exercise of all of its duties, including those most strictly local or internal, is but a department of the State. The legislature may give it all the powers such a being is capable of receiving, making it a miniature State within its locality. Again: it may strip it of every power, leaving it a corporation in name only; and it may create and recreate these changes as often as it chooses, or it may itself exercise directly within the locality any or all the powers usually committed to a municipality. We do not regard its acts as sometimes those of an agency of the State, and at others those of a municipality; but that, its character and nature remaining at all times the same, it is great or small according as the legislature shall extend or contract the sphere of its action.

In his work on Municipal Corporations (sect. 835), Judge Dillon says, 'As the highway of a State, including streets in cities, are under the paramount and primary control of the legislature, and as all municipal powers are derived from the legislature, it follows that the authority of municipalities over streets, and the uses to which they may be put, depends entirely upon their charter, or legislative enactments applicable to them. It is usual in this contry for the legislature to confer upon municipal corporations very extensive powers in respect to streets and public ways within...

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