Phillips v. United States

Citation85 L.Ed. 800,61 S.Ct. 480,312 U.S. 246
Decision Date03 February 1941
Docket NumberNo. 201,201
PartiesPHILLIPS, Governor of Oklahoma, et al., v. UNITED STATES et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Oklahoma.

Messrs. John B. Dudley and Randell S. Cobb, both of Oklahoma City, Okl., and Villard Martin, of Tulsa, Okl., for appellants.

Francis M. Shea, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellees.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

As part of a flood control and hydroelectric development, the Grand River Dam Authority, an agency of the State of Oklahoma, was empowered to construct the Grand River Dam, with authority to borrow money and accept grants from the United States. Oklahoma Laws of 1935, Art. 4, c. 70, 82 Okl.St.Ann. § 861 et seq. For the construction of the dam the United States allotted twenty million dollars to the Authority. Eight and one-half millions, in round numbers, were to be used as a grant, and eleven and one-half for the bonds of the Authority. Construction began in February, 1938, and by the spring of last year much of the work was nearing completion. During this period, the Governor of Oklahoma unsuccessfully pressed against the Authority claims for the flooding of roads within the dam area. The action which the Governor finally took to enforce his own views in this matter is the source of the present litigation. On March 13, 1940, he declared martial law in an area surrounding part of the dam-site and ordered the Adjutant General of the state to occupy it. The following day the Governor in conjunction with other state officials obtained an ex parte order in a state court restraining further work on the dam by the Authority. Thereupon the United States began the present suit in a federal district court. A temporary order was issued against the Governor and the other officials restraining them from interference with the Grand River project by further prosecution of their suit in the state court and by the use of military force. Deeming the suit to be one arising under § 266 of the Judicial Code, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 380, 28 U.S.C.A. § 380, a district court of three judges was convened which, after hearing, entered an interlocutory injunction in the terms of the temporary restraining order. This is the decree that is now before us.

But unless § 266 required the present suit to be heard by three judges, under the Jurisdictional Act of 1925 we are without authority to entertain this direct appeal from a district court. § 238 of the Judicial Code, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 345, 28 U.S.C.A. § 345. Having concluded that there is a fatal bar to our entertaining the appeal, we are without power to consider the other issues that were argued here.

By § 266, which is set forth in the margin,1 Congress provided an exceptional procedure for a well-understood type of controversy. The legislation was designed to secure the public interest in 'a limited class of cases of special importance'. Ex parte Collins, 277 U.S. 565, 567, 48 S.Ct. 585, 586, 72 L.Ed. 990.

It is a matter of history that this procedural device was a means of protecting the increasing body of state legislation regulating economic enterprise from invalidation by a conventional suit in equity. While Congress thus sought to assure more weight and greater deliberation by not leaving the fate of such litigation to a single judge, it was no less mindful that the requirement of three judges, of whom one must be a Justice of this Court or a circuit judge, entails a serious drain upon the federal judicial system particularly in regions where, despite modern facilities, distance still plays an important part in the effective administration of justice. And all but the few great metropolitan areas are such regions. Moreover, inasmuch as this procedure also brings direct review of a district court to this Court, any loose construction of the requirements of § 266 would defeat the purposes of Congress, as expressed by the Jurisdictional Act of February 13, 1925, to keep within narrow confines our appellate docket. Moore v. Fidelity & Deposit Co., 272 U.S. 317, 321, 47 S.Ct. 105, 106, 71 L.Ed. 273. The history of § 266 (see Pogue, State Determination of State Law, 41 Harv.L.Rev. 623, and Hutcheson, A Case for Three Judges, 47 Harv.L.Rev. 795), the nar- rowness of its original scope, the piece-meal explicit amendments which were made to it (see Act of March 4, 1913, 37 Stat. 1013, and Act of February 13, 1925, 43 Stat. 936, amending § 238 of the Judicial Code), the close construction given the section in obedience to Congressional policy (see, for instance, Moore v. Fidelity & Deposit Co., supra; Smith v. Wilson, 273 U.S. 388, 47 S.Ct. 385, 71 L.Ed. 699; Ex parte Collins, supra; Oklahoma Gas Co. v. Packing Co., 292 U.S. 386, 54 S.Ct. 732, 78 L.Ed. 1318; Ex parte Williams, 277 U.S. 267, 48 S.Ct. 523, 72 L.Ed. 877; Ex parte Public National Bank, 278 U.S. 101, 49 S.Ct. 43, 73 L.Ed. 202; Rorick v. Board of Com'rs, 307 U.S. 208, 59 S.Ct. 808, 83 L.Ed. 1242; Ex parte Bransford, 310 U.S. 354, 60 S.Ct. 947, 84 L.Ed. 1249), combine to reveal § 266 not as a measure of broad social policy to be construed with great liberality, but as an enactment technical in the strict sense of the term and to be applied as such.

To bring this procedural device into play—to dislocate the normal operations of the system of lower federal courts and thereafter to come directly to this Court—requires a suit which seeks to interpose the Constitution against enforcement of a state policy, whether such policy is defined in a state constitution or in an ordinary statute or through the delegated legislation of an 'administrative board or commission'. The crux of the business is procedural protection against an improvident state-wide doom by a federal court of a state's legislative policy. This was the aim of Congress and this is the reconciling principle of the cases.

To the test of this principle must be put the argument that the present case is within § 266.

The Oklahoma constitution has the customary provisions pertaining to the powers of a governor. In him is lodged 'The Supreme Executive power', he is 'Commander-in-Chief of the militia of the State' and he 'shall cause the laws of the State to be faithfully executed'. Constitution of Oklahoma, Article VI, §§ 2, 6, 8, Okl.St.Ann. Defining with particularity these powers, an Oklahoma statute 'authorized and required' its Governor to call out the national guard in case of war or similar contingencies including 'any forcible obstructing of the execution of the laws or reasonable apprehension thereof, and at all other times he may deem necessary * * *.' Oklahoma Statutes 1931, § 4989, Okl.St.Ann. Title 44, § 66. In its complaint the United States did not impugn the validity of these Oklahoma provisions. But the Governor justified his declaration of martial law under their authority, and since his action is deemed a lawless interference with the Government's constitutional rights, the suit is claimed to be an 'application for' an 'interlocutory injunction * * * restraining the enforcement, operation, or execution of' a statute of a State by restraining the action of any officer of such State in the enforcement or execution of such a statute * * * upon the ground of the unconstitutionality of such statute.'

The claim proves too much. Probably most of the actions of governors trace back to the common provision charging them with taking care that the laws be faithfully executed. Some constitutional or statutory provision is the ultimate source of all actions by state officials. But an attack on lawless exercise of authority in a particular case is not an attack upon the constitutionality of a statute conferring the authority even though a misreading of the statute is invoked as justification. At least not within the Congressional scheme of § 266. It is significant that the United States in its complaint did not charge the enabling acts of Oklahoma with unconstitutionality, but assailed merely the Governor's action as exceeding the bounds of law. In other words, it seeks a restraint not of a statute but of an executive action. But the enforcement of a 'statute', within the meaning of § 266, is not sought to be enjoined merely because a state official seeks shelter under it by way of defense against a charge...

To continue reading

Request your trial
341 cases
  • Klim v. Jones
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • July 17, 1970
    ...U.S.C. § 2281 only in a limited class of cases and only when all the requirements of that statute are met. Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 61 S.Ct. 480, 85 L.Ed. 800 (1941). See also Mitchell v. Donovan, 398 U.S. 427, 90 S.Ct. 1763, 26 L.Ed.2d 378 (1970). One of the requirements of......
  • Epstein v. Lordi
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • December 14, 1966
    ...conflict with a federal statute. Since 28 U.S.C. § 2281 is a technical provision to be construed strictly, Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 61 S.Ct. 480, 85 L.Ed. 800 (1917), suits to enjoin the enforcement of state law resting solely on "supremacy grounds" do not come within the pr......
  • Jehovah's Witnesses in State of Wash. v. King County Hosp.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
    • June 8, 1967
    ...the question of its jurisdiction to hear the case at bar, referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 61 S.Ct. 480, 85 L. Ed. 800 (1941), and requested briefs on the jurisdictional issue. After consideration of the briefs the court has concluded......
  • Mo Hock Ke Lok Po v. Stainback, Civ. A. No. 765.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Hawaii)
    • October 22, 1947
    ...Judicial Code does, should in applicable situations be given "narrowness of its original scope", Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, at page 251, 61 S.Ct. 480, at page 483, 85 L.Ed. 800, and must be construed "as an enactment technical in the strict sense of the term and to be applied ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 96 No. 1, November 2020
    • November 1, 2020
    ...801, 801 (1995); Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Tex. Sys. v. New Left Educ. Project, 404 U.S. 541, 545 (1972); Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 254 (1941); see also United States v. Belt, 319 U.S. 521, 522-23 (1943) (employing the same procedure in a case involving an appeal from the D......
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 95 No. 5, May 2020
    • May 1, 2020
    ...against state officers, notwithstanding the state's immunity to suit under the Eleventh Amendment). (107) See Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 251 (1941) (holding that the three-judge court statute is "not... a measure of broad social policy to be construed with great liberality, bu......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT