« PreviousContinue »
which on the whole is the fairer or better, etc., and then put that into the law as the meaning.
2. Intention in the case of a public body, such as a legislature, as Mr. McMurtrie rightly argues in the pamphlets above mentioned, does not at all mean the same thing as intention when applied to morals, or that part of law founded on what we call the moral nature, i. e., consciousness of meaning or the exercise of will. The only reliable guide to intention is to look to the words and the circumstances under which they were used. People are held to mean what their words or acts infer. This is a perfectly well-accepted principle of law, and finds expression in many legal decisions which the court is bound to consider in deciding the case. No statute is construed by referring to the private gossip of the draughtsman, or even by statements made in debate. (Minnesota 10, 126.) As to any other instrument that is to be an authority or guide, and require construction, such as deeds, wills, contracts, etc., notoriously the most improper man on earth to expound a writing is the writer. He alone of all men can not distinguish clearly what is and what is not intended by what is written, and separate it from what floated in his mind but did not reach the paper. (3 Howard 24 Gibson, C. J.; Serg. & Rawle 12, 352; 7 Harris, 156; Black C. J. & Lewis 2 Casey 450.)?
1 We know of no rule for construing the extent of such powers other than is given by the language of the instrument which confers them, taken in connection with the purposes for which they are conferred. (Gibbons vs. Ogden, 9 Wheaton, 1-240; Meyer's Digest, $1183; C. J. Marshall.)
Though a particular object may have been in the contemplation of the Legislature, a court is not bound to conclude that they have done what they intended, unless fit words be used for that purpose. (1 Paine, 35.)
3. We are, therefore, not entitled, on principles of law, to inquire into intention in this case in the sense in which that term is ordinarily used, owing to the evident impossibility of really ascertaining it. It is well known that there was a difference of opinion as to the wisdom of conferring this power, and language was finally adopted which seemed to satisfy both parties. It is evident that
The spirit of the act must be extracted from the words of the act, and not from conjectures. Aliunde, (Gardner vs. Collier, 2 Peters, 73).
The meaning of the Legislature is to be ascertained from the language of the statute. (Platt vs. Union Pacific, 9 Otto, 58.)
In expounding this law the judgment of the court cannot in any degree be influenced by the construction placed upon it by individual members of Congress, in the debate which took place on its passage; nor by the motives or reasons assigned by them for supporting or opposing amendments that were offered. The law as it passed is the will of the majority of both Houses, and the only mode in which that will is spoken is in the act itself; and we must gather their intention from the language there used, comparing it when any ambiguity exists with the laws upon the same subject, and looking if necessary to the public history of the times in which it was passed. (Aldridge et. al. vs. Williams, 3 Howard, 24).
The object of construction is to give effect to the intent of the people in adopting it. But this intent is to be found in the instrument itself. (Cooley's Limitations, p. 68.)
To adopt the principle of looking beyond the instrument to ascertain its meaning, when it may be fairly inferred from the instrument itself, the constitution may be made to mean one thing by one man and something else by another, until in the end it is in danger of being rendered a mere dead letter. (People vs. Pardy, 2 Hill, 35).
It follows from these principles that the statute itself furnishes the best means of its own exposition, and if the sense in which the words were intended to be used can be clearly ascertained from all its parts and provisions, the intention thus indicated shall prevail without resorting to other means of aiding in the construction. And these familiar rules of construction apply with at least as much force to the construction of written constitutions as to statutes ; the former being presumed to be framed with much greater care and consideration than the latter. (Green vs. Weller, 32 Miss., 650-678).
there is no ground here to found intention in any sense of that term which would correspond to its use in ordinary life. Moreover, we must remember that the men who drew this instrument were not the parties who enacted it into law. And certainly the latter are entitled to as much consideration in this matter as the men who drew the writing. This would lead us into an examination of the ideas and intentions of each man who voted for the ratification of the instrument. This is evidently absurd as a principle of law. The case is exactly analogous to one which we find every day in our ordinary legislatures, where one party wishes to adopt a certain policy and the other is opposed, and they finally agree on a law because each side thinks that it favors its own views. No court could go into an investigation of exactly what each member thought he was voting for, when he cast his vote on one side or the other. And it has repeatedly happened in the course of judicial decision in this country that the courts have held that a given law meant a very different thing from that which it seemed to most of the legislators who approved of it. Naturally enough, for the only question which the court has before it is not what the legislators though they were doing, but what they actually did do in the case.
More than that the legislature is not even allowed by the courts to construe their own statutes after any action has occurred under them :
Statutes declaratory of the proper construction of a law are unconstitutional and void as far as they affect private transactions. (14 Otto, 677). This it will be seen is of such a sweeping character that even if the unanimous vote of the Constitutional Convention had been cast in favor of a given interpretation, the court would not only However, suppose we waive this point, which actually bars out all reference to the intention of the framers, let us look a moment at the evidence of intention which is before us. The court in the last decision says : « The reports which have come down to us of the debates in the convention that framed the constitution afford no proof of any general concurrence of opinion upon the subject before us.” This remark becomes the object of some pretty severe criticism on the part of Mr. Bancroft and others. And yet it seems plain that the court is justified in this view by the actual record of the convention.
The only debate which throws any light on this question was held on August 16th, 1787. It occurred on the proposition to cut out the words—"and emit bills of credit”—which formed part of the draft submitted to Congress. Morris was in favor of cutting it out with the idea that if the clause were dropped
not be bound by it, but would be bound to declare that the opinion was valueless in point of law.
The meaning of a statute is to be ascertained from the language used and not by inquiring of the individual members of the legislature what they intended by enacting the law. If the natural import of the law is different from the effect intended to be given to it by those who were for it, the only safe rule is to take the act as it stands as conveying the intention of the legislature. (9 Otto, 58).
What passes in Congress upon the discussion of a bill can not become a matter of strict judicial inquiry in construing the statute, and little reliance ought to be placed upon such sources of information. (2 Story, 648).
As worded in another case:
It is not even allowable for a legislature, even by a formal vote, to construe a law which it has itself passed-except under such forms as may be taken to have established a new law ; for the vote of a legislature, that a statute passed by it means such and such a thing, has been frequently disregarded by the courts as being the exercise of a judicial power hy a legislative body, and must always be determined
Congress would have no power to issue treasury notes. Butler seconded the motion. Madison thought they had better simply insert a prohibition to make them a legal-tender, evidently showing that he thought, if the power to emit bills were conferred in that simple way, that the government would have authority to make them legal tender. Morris, that striking out these words would still leave room for a responsible minister to emit treasury notes. Gorham thought that leaving out the clause would be better without inserting any prohibition, thinking that the words as they stood would suggest and lead to the emission. Mason thought Congress would not have power unless expressed (thus differing from Morris), and expressed himself as unwilling to tie up the hands of the government by such a prohibition. Gorham thought that the power so far as safe would be involved in the borrowing power. Mercer was opposed to a prohibition for two reasons: 1st, he was in favor of paper money on general principles. 2nd,
as of no effect at all so far as regards acts performed before such declaration. (See 39 Penn., 137; Cooley's Limitations, p. 113.)
The clearest manner, therefore, in which legislative intent can be ascertained, i. e., by a formal vote on the very question of meaning, has no binding force whatever on the courts.
As Smith writes it:
When we once know the reason which alone determined the will of the law-makers, we ought to interpret and apply the words used in a manner suitable and consonant to that reason, and as will be best calculated to effectuate that intent. Great caution should always be observed in the application of this rule to particular given cases ; that is, we ought always to be certain that we do know and have actually ascertained the true and only reason which induced the act. It is never allowable to indulge in vague and uncertain conjecture, or in supposed reasons and views of the framers of an act, where there are none known with any degree of certainty. (Smith on Stat. and Const. Const. 634).