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LAKE SHORE AND MICHIGAN SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY v. SMITH.

decided: April 17, 1899.

LAKE SHORE AND MICHIGAN SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY
v.
SMITH.



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN.

Author: PECKHAM

[ 173 U.S. Page 686]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after stating the facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

[ 173 U.S. Page 687]

     The only subject of inquiry for us in this case is whether the act of the legislature of the State of Michigan violates any provision of the Federal Constitution. It is not within our province to review the decision of the Supreme Court upon the question whether the act violates the constitution of the State.

The two questions of a Federal nature that are raised in the record are, (1) whether the act violates the Constitution of the United States by impairing the obligation of any contract between the State and the railroad company; and (2) if not, does it nevertheless violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution by depriving the company of its property or liberty without due process of law or by depriving it of the equal protection of the laws. If we should decide that this act violates any provision of the Fourteenth Amendment it would be unnecessary to examine the question whether there was any contract between the State and the company as claimed by it. We will therefore first come to an investigation of the legislative authority with reference to that Amendment.

If unhampered by contract there is no doubt of the power of the State to provide by legislation for maximum rates of charges for railroad companies, subject to the condition that they must be such as will admit of the carrier earning a compensation that under all the circumstances shall be just to it and to the public, and whether they are or not is a judicial question. If the rates are fixed at an insufficient amount within the meaning of that term as given by the courts, the law would be invalid, as amounting to the taking of the property of the company without due process of law. Chicago & Grand Trunk Railway Company v. Wellman, 143 U.S. 339, 344; Reagan v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Company, 154 U.S. 362, 399; St. Louis & San Francisco Railway Co. v. Gill, 156 U.S. 649; Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 466, 523.

The extent of the power of the State to legislate regarding the affairs of railroad companies has within the past few years been several times before this court. Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railway Co. v. Illinois, 118 U.S. 557; Illinois Central

[ 173 U.S. Page 688]

     Railroad v. Illinois, 163 U.S. 142; Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway v. Ohio, 173 U.S. 285, and cases cited. These cases arose under the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution, the inquiry being whether the legislation in question violated that provision. In the cases in which the legislation was upheld it was on the ground that the State was but exercising its proper authority under its general power to legislate regarding persons and things within its jurisdiction, sometimes described as its police power, and that in exercising that power in the particular cases it did not violate the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution by improperly regulating or interfering with interstate commerce. The extent of the right of the State to legislate was examined in these various cases -- so far at least as it was affected by the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States.

In Illinois Central Railroad v. Illinois, the state statute imposed the duty upon the company of stopping its fast mail train at the station at Cairo, to do which the train had to leave the through route at a point three miles from that station and then return to the same point in order to resume its journey. This statute was held to be an unconstitutional interference with interstate commerce, and therefore void.

In Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway v. Ohio, a statute of the State of Ohio required the company to stop certain of its trains at stations containing 3000 inhabitants for a time sufficient to receive and let off passengers, and the statute was held to be a valid exercise of legislative power and not an improper interference with interstate commerce. In the course of the opinion of the court, which was delivered by Mr. Justice Harlan, it was said that "the power, whether called police, governmental or legislative, exists in each State, by appropriate enactments not forbidden by its own constitution or by the Constitution of the United States, to regulate the relative rights and duties of all persons and corporations within its jurisdiction, and therefore to provide for the public convenience and the public good. This power in the States is entirely distinct from any power granted to the General Government, although when exercised it may sometimes

[ 173 U.S. Page 689]

     reach subjects over which national legislation can be constitutionally extended." And again, speaking of cases involving state regulations more or less affecting interstate or foreign commerce, it was said that these cases "were sustained upon the ground that they were not directed against nor were direct burdens upon interstate or foreign commerce; and having been enacted only to protect the public safety, the public health or the public morals, and having a real, substantial relation to the public ends intended to be accomplished thereby, were not to be deemed absolutely forbidden because of the mere grant of power to Congress to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, but to be regarded as only incidentally affecting such commerce and valid until superseded by legislation of Congress on the same subject."

The police power is a general term used to express the particular right of a government which is inherent in every sovereignty. As stated by Mr. Chief Justice Taney, in the course of his opinion in the License cases, 5 How. 504, 583, in describing the powers of a State: "they are nothing more or less than the powers of government inherent in every sovereignty to the extent of its dominions. And whether a State passes a quarantine law, or a law to punish offences, or to establish courts of justice, or requiring certain instruments to be recorded, or to regulate commerce within its own limits, in every case it exercises the same power; that is to say, the power of sovereignty, the power to govern men and things within the limits of its dominion."

This power must, however, be exercised in subordination to the provisions of the Federal Constitution. If, in the assumed exercise of its police power, the legislature of a State directly and plainly violates a provision of the Constitution of the United States, such legislation would be void.

The validity of this act is rested by the counsel for the defendant in error upon the proposition that the state legislature has the power of regulation over the corporation created by it, and in cases of railroad corporations, the same power of regulation and also full control over the subject ...


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