Page images
PDF
EPUB

CONSTITUTIONAL INTERPRETATION

I. RULES OF INTERPRETATION

II. AIDS TO INTERPRETATION.

[II. PRESENTATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTION IV. CONSTITUTIONALITY OF STATUTES

I. Rules of Interpretation

1. Intent

2. Prospective or retrospective operation

3. Result

4. Practical construction

5. Constitution as entire instrument

6. Rules of statutory construction

7. Interpretation of words

8. Amendment and revision

9. Redeclaration

10. Change of policy

II. Aids to Interpretation

11. Proceedings of convention

12. Historical foundation and existing law

13. Objectionable consequences

III. Presentation of Constitutional Question

14. Persons entitled, to raise question

15. Presentation, waiver, and estoppel

IV. Constitutionality of Statutes

16. Favorable intendment and construction

17. Statutes violative of spirit of constitution, equity, and justice

18. Effect on existing statutes

19. Operation as determining or raising question

20. Partial unconstitutionality

I. Rules of Interpretation

1. Intent. It is a fundamental rule of constitutional interpretation that the real intent of the provisions of the constitution, when ascertained, controls over the literal sense of the words

[9]

81

Rules of Interpretation

and terms used. "No constitution was ever drawn so as to be an effective foundation for the government of a state without applying thereto the doctrine of implication. It is well established that whatever is necessary to render effective any provision of a constitution, whether it is a grant, restriction or prohibition, 'must be deemed implied and intended in the provision itself." " And a statute which is opposed to the spirit, intent, and purpose of the constitution is as much within the condemnation of the

1. Sherrill v. O'Brien, (1907) 188 N. Y. 185, 81 N. E. 124, 117 A. 8. R. 841, reversing 114 App. Div. 890, 101 N. Y. S. 858; In re Burns, (1898) 155 N. Y. 23, 49 N. E. 246, reversing 16 App. Div. 507, 44 N. Y. S. 950; People v. Lorillard, (1892) 135 N. Y. 285, 31 N. E. 1011; Mangam v. Brooklyn, (1885) 98 N. Y. 585, 50 Am. Rep. 705; People v. Albertson, (1873) 55 N. Y. 50; People v. Fancher, (1872) 50 N. Y. 288; Settle v. Von Evrea, (1872) 49 N. Y. 280; People v. Potter, (1872) 47 N. Y. 375; People v. Gardner, (1871) 45 N. Y. 812, affirming 59 Barb. 198, 5 Lans. 1; Goodere v. Jackson, (1823) 20 Johns. 693; Matter of Markland, (1911) 146 App. Div. 350, 131 N. Y. S. 364; Matter of Silkman, (1903) 88 App. Div. 102, 84 N. Y. S. 1025; Chrystal v. New York, (1901) 63 App. Div. 93, 71 N. Y. S. 352; People v. Mosher, (1889) 45 App. Div. 68, 61 N. Y. S. 452, affirmed (1900) 163 N. Y. 32, 57 N. E. 88, 79 A. S. R. 552; Goedel v. Palmer, (1897) 15 App. Div. 86, 44 N. Y. S. 301, affirmed (1897) 152 N. Y. 412, 46 N. E. 851; Rathbone v. Wirth, (1896) 6 App. Div. 277, 40 N. Y. S. 535, affirmed (1896) 150 N. Y. 459, 45 N. E. 15, 34 L. R. A. 408; People v. Roberts, (1895) 91 Hun 101, 34 N. Y. S. 641, 36 N. Y. S. 677, affirmed (1896) 148 N. Y. 360, 42 N. E. 1082, 31 L. R. A. 399; Adams v. East River Sav. Inst., (1892) 65 Hun 145, 20 N. Y. S. 12, affirmed 136 N. Y. 52, 32 N. E. 622; People v. Angle, (1888) 47 Hun 183, 14 N. Y. St. Rep. 199; In re New York Dist. R. Co., (1886) 42 Hun 621, 4 N. Y. St. Rep. 739, affirmed (1887) 107 N. Y. 42, 14 N. E. 187; Admiral Realty Co. v. New York, (1912) 76 Misc. 345, 135 N. Y. S. 384, affirmed (1912) 206 N. Y. 110, 99 N. E. 241, Ann. Cas. 1914A 1054; Matter of Sweeley, (1895) 12 Misc. 174, 33 N. Y. S. 369, affirmed (1895) 146 N. Y. 401, 42 N. E. 543. See also Williams v. Port Chester, (1904) 97 App. Div. 84, 89 N. Y. S. 671, affirmed (1905) 183 N. Y. 550, 76 N. E. 1116.

Thus, the words "in session," as used in section four of article six of the state constitution, which authorizes the governor, when the senate is not in session, to fill temporarily, by appointment, a vacancy in the office of justice of the Supreme Court, indicate a present action or being of the senate as a body. When the sittings are terminated by a long adjournment, and the actual meetings of the body are thus interrupted, although the session is ccntinued, the senate is not "in session " within the intent and meaning of that section, and an appointment made by the governor during such an adjournment is valid. People v. Fancher, (1872) 50 N. Y. 288.

2. Fraser v. Brown, (1911) 203 N. Y. 136, 96 N. E. 365, Ann. Cas. 1913B 14, 146 App. Div. 898, 131 N. Y. S. 1115.

Thus, when the constitution provides (Art. 2, § 4) that certain voters "shall not be required to apply in person for registration at the first meeting of the" inspectors, it is implied that the legislature is prohibited from passing any statute to the contrary, because that implication is necessary to render the provision effective. Fraser v. Brown, (1911) 203 N. Y. 136, 96 N. E. 365, Ann. Cas. 1913B 14, reversing 146 App. Div. 898, 131 N. Y. 8. 1116.

#1

Rules of Interpretation

organic law as though the intention to violate the constitution were written in bold characters on the face of the statute itself." Furthermore, an important key to the correct construction of the

3. Gautier v. Ditmar, (1912) 204 N. Y. 20, 97 N. E. 464, Ann. Cas. 1913C 960, affirming 144 App. Div. 721, 129 N. Y. S. 834; Hopper v. Britt, (1911) 203 N. Y. 144, 96 N. E. 371, Ann. Cas. 1913B 172, 37 L. R. A. (N. S.) 825, reversing 146 App. Div. 363, 131 N. Y. S. 135; People v. Coler, (1903) 173 N. Y. 103, 65 N. E. 956, affirming 71 App. Div. 584, 76 N. Y. S. 205; People v. Howland, (1898) 155 N. Y. 270, 49 N. E. 775, 41 L. R. A. 838, affirming 17 App. Div. 165, 45 N. Y. S. 347; Rathbone v. Wirth, (1896) 150 N. Y. 459, 45 N. E. 15, 34 L. R. A. 408, affirming 6 App. Div. 277, 40 N. Y. S. 535; People v. Angle, (1888) 109 N. Y. 564; People v. Albertson, (1873) 55 N. Y. 50; De Leyer v. Britt, (1913) 157 App. Div. 586, 142 N. Y. S. 752; Williams v. Port Chester, (1904) 97 App. Div. 84, 89 N. Y. S. 671, affirmed (1905) 183 N. Y. 550, mem., 76 N. E. 1116; Ziegler v. Corwin, (1896) 12 App. Div. 60. See also People v. Luce, (1912) 204 N. Y. 478, 97 N. E. 850, Ann. Cas. 1913C 1151, affirming 148 App. Div. 933, 132 N. Y. S. 1143; Wynehamer v. People, (1856) 13 N. Y. 378; Leach v. Auwell, (1912) 154 App. Div. 170, 138 N. Y. S. 975. Compare People v. City Prison, (1894) 81 Hun 434, 30 N. Y. S. 1095, affirmed (1895) 144 N. Y. 529, 39 N. E. 686, 27 L. R. A. 718. And see infra, this article, p. 29, IV. Constitutionality of Statutes.

In People v. Howland, (1898) 155 N. Y. 270, 49 N. E. 775, 41 L. R. A. 838, affirming 17 App. Div. 165, 45 N. Y. S. 347, the court said: "When the main purpose of a statute, or of part of a statute, is to evade the constitution by effecting indirectly that which cannot be done directly, the act is to that extent void, because it violates the spirit of the fundamental law. Otherwise the constitution would furnish frail protection to the citizen, for it would be at the mercy of ingenious efforts to circumvent its object and to defeat its commands." In Rathbone v. Wirth, (1896) 150 N. Y. 459, 45 N. E. 15, 34 L. R. A. 408, affirming 6 App. Div. 277, 40 N. Y. S. 535, this was said: "The implied restraints of the constitution upon legislative power may be as effectual for its condemnation as the written words, and such restraints may be found either in the language employed, or in the evident purpose which was in view and the circumstances and historical events which led to the enactment of the particular provision as a part of the organic law. A written constitution must be interpreted as the paramount law of the land according to its spirit and the intent of its framers, as indicated by its terms. In this sense it is just as obligatory upon the legislature as upon other departments of the government or upon individual citizens." In People v. Albertson, (1873) 55 N. Y. 50, it was said: "A written constitution must be interpreted and effect given to it as the paramount law of the land, equally obligatory upon the legislature as upon other departments of government and individual citizens, according to its spirit and the intent of its framers, as indicated by its terms. An act violating the true intent and meaning of the instrument, although not within the letter, is as much within the purview and effect of a prohibition as if within the strict letter; and an act in evasion of the terms of the constitution, as properly interpreted and understood, and frustrating its general and clearly expressed or necessarily implied purpose, is as clearly void as if in express terms forbidden. A thing within the intent of a constitution or statutory enactment is, for all purposes, to be regarded as within the words and terms of the law. A written constitution would be of little avail as a practical and useful restraint upon the different departments of government, if a literal reading only was to be given it, to the exclusion of all necessary implication. and the clear intent ignored, and slight evasions of acts, palpably in evasion of its spirit, should be sustained as not repugnant to it."

#1

Rules of Interpretation

provisions of the constitution is the purpose sought to be effected and the evil sought to be remedied thereby, and for the purpose of ascertaining the intent of a provision the cause or necessity for its adoption may be considered." In short, the constitution should receive a reasonable construction so as to effectuate, rather than to defeat, its purpose; but it seems that even this rule cannot operate to restrict the terms of a constitutional provision to less than a literal meaning clearly and unequivocally expressed;" and where the intent is manifest from the words used and leads to no absurd conclusion, there is no occasion for interpretation, and the meaning which the words necessarily import must be accepted without conjecture.

4. Lord v. Equitable L. Assur. Soc., (1909) 194 N. Y. 212, 87 N. E. 443. 22 L. R. A. (N. S.) 420, reversing 126 App. Div. 937, 110 N. Y. 8. 1135; People v. New York Soc., etc., (1900) 162 N. Y. 429, 56 N. E. 1004; Sun Printing, etc., Ass'n New York, (1897) 152 N. Y. 257, 46 N. E. 499, 37 L. R. A. 788, affirming 8 App. Div. 230, 40 N. Y. S. 607; People v. Lorillard, (1894) 135 N. Y. 285, 31 N. E. 1011; People v. Petrea, (1883) 92 N. Y. 128; Matter of Gilbert El. R. Co., (1877) 70 N. Y. 361, affirming 9 Hun 303; People v. Potter, (1872) 47 N. Y. 375; People v. Chautauqua County, (1870) 43 N. Y. 10; People v. New York Cent. R. Co., (1862) 24 N. Y. 485, affirming 34 Barb. 123; Matter of Silkman, (1903) 88 App. Div. 102, 84 N. Y. S. 1025; McGrath v. Grout, (1902) 69 App. Div. 314, 74 N. Y. S. 782, affirmed (1902) 171 N. Y. 7, 63 N. E. 547; People v. Mosher, (1899) 45 App. Div. 68, 61 N. Y. S. 452, affirmed (1900) 163 N. Y. 32, 57 N. E. 88, 79 A. S. R. 552; Weidman v. Sibley, (1897) 16 App. Div. 616, 44 N. Y. S. 1057; Rathbone v. Wirth, (1896) 6 App. Div. 277, 40 N. Y. S. 535, affirmed (1896) 150 N. Y. 459, 45 N. E. 15, 34 L. R. A. 408; People v. Roberts, (1895) 91 Hun 101, 34 N. Y. S. 641, 36 N. Y. S. 677, affirmed (1896) 148 N. Y. 360, 42 N. E. 1082, 31 L. R. A. 399.

5. People v. Angle, (1888) 47 Hun 183, 14 N. Y. St. Rep. 199, affirmed (1888) 109 N. Y. 564, 17 N. E. 413; In re New York Dist. R. Co., (1886) 42 Hun 621, 4 N. Y. St. Rep. 739, affirmed (1887) 107 N. Y. 42, 14 N. E. 187; Admiral Realty Co. v. New York, (1912) 76 Misc. 345, 135 N. Y. S. 384, affirmed (1912) 206 N. Y. 110, 99 N. E. 241, Ann. Cas. 1914A 1054.

6. Koster v. Coyne, (1906) 184 N. Y. 494, 77 N. E. 983, affirming 110 App. Div. 742, 97 N. Y. S. 433; In re Burns, (1898) 155 N. Y. 23, 49 N. E. 246, reversing 16 App. Div. 507, 44 N. Y. S. 930; Rochester v. Quintard, (1892) 136 N. Y. 221, 32 N. E. 760, affirming 65 Hun 460, 20 N. Y. S. 396; People v. Petrea, (1883) 92 N. Y. 128; Matter of Gilbert El. R. Co., (1877) 70 N. Y. 361, affirming 9 Hun 303; Matter of Markland, (1911) 146 App. Div. 350, 131 N. Y. S. 364; Weidman v. Sibley, (1897) 16 App. Div. 616, 44 N. Y. S. 1057. See Adams v. East River Sav. Inst., (1892) 65 Hun 145, 20 N. Y. S. 12, affirmed (1892) 136 N. Y. 52, 32 N. E. 622.

7. Deady v. Lyons, (1899) 39 App. Div. 139, 57 N. Y. S. 448.

8. People v. Rathbone, (1895) 145 N. Y. 434, 40 N. E. 395, 28 L. R. A. 384; Mangam v. Brooklyn, (1895) 98 N. Y. 585, 50 Am. Rep. 705; People v. Van Allen, (1873) 55 N. Y. 31; People v. Dayton, (1874) 55 N. Y. 367; People v. Fancher, (1872) 50 N. Y. 288; Settle v. Van Evrea, (1872) 49 N. Y. 280; People v. New York Cent. R. Co., (1864) 24 N. Y. 485, affirming 34 Barb. 123; Newell v. People, (1852) 7 N. Y. 9, overruling 13 Barb. 86; People v. Hylan, (1914) 163 App. Div. 219, 148 N. Y. 8. 287, judgment reversed

[blocks in formation]

2. Prospective or retrospective operation. The constitution will be construed to operate prospectively only, unless on its face the contrary intention is manifest beyond reasonable question. If all its language can be satisfied by confining its operation, to the future, it should be so construed; and whoever asserts that

(1914) 212 N. Y. 236, 106 N. E. 89; Adams v. East River Sav. Inst., (1892) 65 Hun 145, 20 N. Y. S. 12, affirmed (1892) 136 N. Y. 52, 32 N. E. 622.

"It is peculiarly true of the fundamental laws called written constitutions, adopted by the people at large, that, if the provision in question is plain and clear on the face of it, it is to be presumed that the language was used in the ordinary acceptation, and is to be literally interpreted, and exceptions are not to be engrafted on it by any speculation as to the reasons which have induced its adoption, in order to defeat the literal interpretation of its provisions. And that which fairly cannot be held to be within the literal eignification of its provisions, cannot be held to be included within it; nor can exceptions be made to those provisions which the language used does not fairly warrant.” Countryman v. Norton, (1880) 21 Hun 17. To the same effect, In re Tuthill, (1900) 163 N. Y. 133, 57 N. E. 303, 79 A. S. R. 574, 49 L. R. A. 781, affirming 36 App. Div. 492, 55 N. Y. S. 657; People v. Rathbone, (1895) 145 N. Y. 434, 40 N. E. 395, 28 L. R. A. 384; People v. Wemple, (1891) 125 N. Y. 485, 26 N. E. 921; Settle v. Van Evrea, (1872) 49 N. Y. 280; Newell v. People, (1852) 7 N. Y. 9; Parish v. Rogers, (1897) 20 App. Div. 279, 46 N. Y. S. 1058.

In Newell v. People, (1852) 7 N. Y. 9, Johnson, J., said: "Whether we are considering an agreement between parties, a statute or a constitution, with a view to its interpretation, the thing we are to seek is, the thought which it expresses. To ascertain this, the first resort, in all cases, is, to the natural signification of the words employed, in the order and grammatical arrangement in which the framers of the instrument have placed them. If, thus regarded, the words embody a definite meaning, which involves no absurdity, and no contradiction between different parts of the same writing, then, that meaning, apparent upon the face of the instrument, is the one which alone we are at liberty to say was intended to be conveyed; in such a case, there is no room for construction. That which the words declare, is the meaning of the instrument; and neither courts nor legislatures have the right to add or to take away from that meaning. This is true of every instrument, but when we are speaking of the most solemn and deliberate of all human writings, those which ordain the fundamental law of states, the rule rises to a very high degree of significance. It must be very plain, nay, absolutely certain, that the people did not intend, what the language they have employed, in its natural signification, imports, before a court will feel itself at liberty to depart from the plain reading of a constitutional provision."

9. People v. Palmer, (1897) 154 N. Y. 133, 47 N. E. 1084, affirming 21 App. Div. 101, 47 N. Y. S. 403; Bronk v. Barckley, (1897) 13 App. Div. 72, 43 N. Y. S. 400; Matter of Penfield, (1896) 3 App. Div. 30, 37 N. Y. S. 1056, affirmed (1898) 155 N. Y. 703, 50 N. E. 1116; O'Reilly v. Utah, etc., Stage Co., (1895) 87 Hun 406, 34 N. Y. S. 358.

Thus, where a proceeding has been taken prior to 1895 under the General Drainage Act of the Revised Statutes, and under the statute of 1869, as amended, it cannot be upheld by a resort to the Drainage Act, chapter 384 of the Laws of 1895, passed pursuant to the provisions of the constitution of 1894. Matter of Penfield, (1896) 3 App. Div. 30, 37 N. Y. S. 1056, affirmed (1898) 155 N. Y. 703, 50 N. E. 116.

« PreviousContinue »