ArtI.S10.C1.6.1 Law Defined

Article I, Section 10, Clause 1:

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

The Contract Clause provides that no state may pass a Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, and a law in this context may be a statute, constitutional provision, 1 municipal ordinance, 2 or administrative regulation having the force and operation of a statute. 3 But are judicial decisions within the clause? The abstract principle of the separation of powers, at least until recently, forbade the idea that the courts make law and the word pass in the above clause seemed to confine it to the formal and acknowledged methods of exercise of the law-making function. Accordingly, the Court has frequently said that the clause does not cover judicial decisions, however erroneous, or whatever their effect on existing contract rights. 4 Nevertheless, there are important exceptions to this rule that are set forth below.

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1Dodge v. Woolsey, 59 U.S. (18 How.) 331 (1856); Ohio & M. R.R. v. McClure, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 511 (1871); New Orleans Gas Co. v. Louisiana Light Co., 115 U.S. 650 (1885); Bier v. McGehee, 148 U.S. 137, 140 (1893).
  2.  Jump to essay-2New Orleans Water-Works Co. v. Rivers, 115 U.S. 674 (1885); City of Walla Walla v. Walla Walla Water Co., 172 U.S. 1 (1898); City of Vicksburg v. Waterworks Co., 202 U.S. 453 (1906); Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Goldsboro, 232 U.S. 548 (1914); Cuyahoga Power Co. v. City of Akron, 240 U.S. 462 (1916).
  3.  Jump to essay-3Id. See also Grand Trunk Ry. v. Indiana R.R. Comm'n, 221 U.S. 400 (1911); Appleby v. Delaney, 271 U.S. 403 (1926).
  4.  Jump to essay-4Central Land Co. v. Laidley, 159 U.S. 103 (1895). See also New Orleans Water-Works Co. v. Louisiana Sugar Co., 125 U.S. 18 (1888); Hanford v. Davies, 163 U.S. 273 (1896); Ross v. Oregon, 227 U.S. 150 (1913); Detroit United Ry. v. Michigan, 242 U.S. 238 (1916); Long Sault Development Co. v. Call, 242 U.S. 272 (1916); McCoy v. Union Elevated R. Co., 247 U.S. 354 (1918); Columbia Ry., Gas & Electric Co. v. South Carolina, 261 U.S. 236 (1923); Tidal Oil Co. v. Flannagan, 263 U.S. 444 (1924).