No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In 1855, the Court first attempted to assess its standards for judging what was due process. At issue was the constitutionality of summary proceedings under a distress warrant to levy on the lands of a government debtor. The Court first ascertained that Congress was not free to make any process
To what principles, then, are we to resort to ascertain whether this process, enacted by congress, is due process? To this the answer must be twofold. We must examine the constitution itself, to see whether this process be in conflict with any of its provisions. If not found to be so, we must look to those settled usages and modes of proceedings existing in the common and statute law of England, before the emigration of our ancestors, and which are shown not to have been unsuited to their civil and political condition by having been acted on by them after the settlement of this country. A survey of history disclosed that the law in England seemed always to have contained a summary method, not unlike the law in question, for recovering debts owed the Crown. Therefore,
[t]ested by the common and statute law of England prior to the emigration of our ancestors, and by the laws of many of the States at the time of the adoption of this amendment, the proceedings authorized by the act of 1820 cannot be denied to be due process of law. . . . 1
This formal approach to the meaning of due process could obviously have limited both Congress and the state legislatures in the development of procedures unknown to English law. But when California’s abandonment of indictment by grand jury was challenged, the Court refused to be limited by the fact that such proceeding was the English practice and that Coke had indicated that it was a proceeding required as
the law of the land. The Court in Murray’s Lessee meant
that a process of law, which is not otherwise forbidden, must be taken to be due process of law, if it can show the sanction of settled usage both in England and in this country; but it by no means follows that nothing else can be due process of law. To hold that only historical, traditional procedures can constitute due process, the Court said,
would be to deny every quality of the law but its age, and to render it incapable of progress or improvement. 2 Therefore, the Court concluded, due process
must be held to guarantee not particular forms of procedures, but the very substance of individual rights to life, liberty, and property. The Due Process Clause prescribed
the limits of those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions. . . . It follows that any legal proceeding enforced by public authority, whether sanctioned by age and custom, or newly devised in the discretion of the legislative power, in furtherance of the general public good, which regards and preserves these principles of liberty and justice, must be held to be due process of law. 3
Although due notice and a reasonable opportunity to be heard are two fundamental protections found in almost all systems of law established by civilized countries, 4 there are certain proceedings in which the enjoyment of these two conditions has not been deemed to be constitutionally necessary. For instance, persons adversely affected by a law cannot challenge its validity on the ground that the legislative body that enacted it gave no notice of proposed legislation, held no hearings at which the person could have presented his arguments, and gave no consideration to particular points of view.
Where a rule of conduct applies to more than a few people it is impracticable that everyone should have a direct voice in its adoption. The Constitution does not require all public acts to be done in town meeting or an assembly of the whole. General statutes within the state power are passed that affect the person or property of individuals, sometimes to the point of ruin, without giving them a chance to be heard. Their rights are protected in the only way that they can be in a complex society, by their power, immediate or remote, over those who make the rule. 5
Similarly, when an administrative agency engages in a legislative function, as, for example, when it drafts regulations of general application affecting an unknown number of persons, it need not afford a hearing prior to promulgation. 6 On the other hand, if a regulation, sometimes denominated an
order, is of limited application, that is, it affects an identifiable class of persons, the question whether notice and hearing is required and, if so, whether it must precede such action, becomes a matter of greater urgency and must be determined by evaluating the various factors discussed below. 7
One such factor is whether agency action is subject to later judicial scrutiny. 8 In one of the initial decisions construing the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Court upheld the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury, acting pursuant to statute, to obtain money from a collector of customs alleged to be in arrears. The Treasury simply issued a distress warrant and seized the collector’s property, affording him no opportunity for a hearing, and requiring him to sue for recovery of his property. While acknowledging that history and settled practice required proceedings in which pleas, answers, and trials were requisite before property could be taken, the Court observed that the distress collection of debts due the crown had been the exception to the rule in England and was of long usage in the United States, and was thus sustainable. 9