Page images

Statement of the Case.

reason of an act claimed to bave been passed by Congress, in 1890, as follows:

“Chap. 200. An act providing for the classification of worsted cloths as woollens.

“Be it enacted, etc., That the Secretary of the Treasury be, and he hereby is, authorized and directed to classify as woollen cloths all imports of worsted cloth, whether known under the name of worsted cloth or under the names of worsteds or diagonals or otherwise.

“Approved, May 9, 1890.” 26 Stat. 105, c. 200. The board of general appraisers found these facts:

“(1.) That the goods in question are worsted, and not woollen goods.

“(2.) That the Secretary of the Treasury never examined or classified the goods in question.

“ (3.) That the journal of the House of Representatives shows the facts attending the passage of the act of May 9, 1890, thus:

“The Speaker laid before the house the bill of the house (H. R. 9548) providing for the classification of worsted cloths as woollens, coming over from last night as unfinished business, with the previous question, and the yeas and nays ordered.

“The house having proceeded to the consideration and the question being put,

“Shall the bill pass!
“There appeared
“ Yeas — 138.
“Nays - 0.
“Not voting — 189.

“The said roll-call having been recapitulated, the Speaker announced, from a list noted and furnished by the clerk, at the suggestion of the Speaker, the following-named members as present in the hall when their names were called, and not. voting, viz. :

[Here follows an alphabetical list of the names of seventyfour members.]

“The Speaker thereupon stated that the said members

[ocr errors]

Opinion of the Court.

present and refusing to vote, (74 in number,) together with those recorded as voting, (138 in number,) showed a total of 212 members present, constituting a quorum present to do business: and, that the yeas being 138 and the nays none, the said bill was passed.”

On appeal, the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York sustained the claim of the importers and reversed the decision of the collector, 45 Fed. Rep. 170, from which judgment the United States appealed to this court.

Mr. Attorney General and Mr. Solicitor General for appellant.

Mr. Edwin B. Smith for appellees. Mr. Stephen G. Clarke was with him on the brief.

MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.

Two questions only are presented: first, was the act of May 9, 1890, legally passed; and, second, what is its meaning? The first is the important question. The enrolled bill is found in the proper office, that of the Secretary of State, authenticated and approved in the customary and legal form. There is nothing on the face of it to suggest any invalidity. Is there anything in the facts disclosed by the journal of the house, as found by the general appraisers, which vitiates it? We are not unmindful of the general observations found in Gardner v. The Collector, 6 Wall. 499, 511, “that whenever a question arises in a court of law of the existence of a statute, or of the time when a statute took effect, or of the precise terms of a statute, the judges who are called upon to decide it have a right to resort to any source of information which in its nature is capable of conveying to the judicial mind a clear and satisfactory answer to such question; always seeking first for that which in its nature is most appropriate, unless the positive law has enacted a different rule.” And we have at the present term, in the case of Field v. Clark, 143 U. S. 649, had occasion to consider the subject of an appeal to the

Opinion of the Court.

journal in a disputed matter of this nature. It is unnecessary to add anything here to that general discussion. The Constitution (Article 1, section 5) provides that “each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings ;” and that “the yeas and nays of the members of either house on any question shall, at the desire of one-fifth of those present, be entered on the journal." Assuming that by reason of this latter clause reference may be had to the journal, to see whether the yeas and nays were ordered, and if so, what was the vote disclosed thereby; and assuming, though without deciding, that the facts which the Constitution requires to be placed on the journal may be appealed to on the question whether a law has been legally enacted, yet if reference may be had to such journal, it must be assumed to speak the truth. It cannot be that we can refer to the journal for the purpose of impeaching a statute properly authenticated and approved, and then supplement and strengthen that impeachment by parol evidence that the facts stated on the journal are not true, or that other facts existed which, if stated on the journal, would give force to the impeachment. If it be suggested that the Speaker might have made a mistake as to some one or more of these seventy-four members, or that the clerk may have falsified the journal in entering therein a record of their presence, it is equally possible that in reference to a roll-call and the yeas and nays there should be a like mistake or falsification. The possibility of such inaccuracy or falsehood only suggests the unreliability of the evidence and the danger of appealing to it to overthrow that furnished by the bill enrolled and authenticated by the signatures of the presiding officers of the two houses and the President of the United States. The facts, then, as appearing from this journal, are that at the time of the roll-call there were present 212 members of the house, more than a quorum; and that 138 voted in favor of the bill, which was a majority of those present. The Constitution, in the same section, provides, that "each house may determine the rules of its proceedings.” It appears that in pursuance of this authority the house had, prior to that day, passed this as one of its rules:

Opinion of the Court.

" Rule XV.

“3. On the demand of any member, or at the suggestion of the Speaker, the names of members sufficient to make a quorum in the hall of the house who do not vote shall be noted by the clerk and recorded in the journal, and reported to the Speaker with the names of the members voting, and be counted and announced in determining the presence of a quorum to do business.” (Ho. Journal, 230, Feb. 14, 1890.)

The action taken was in direct compliance with this rule. The question, therefore, is as to the validity of this rule, and not what methods the Speaker may of his own motion resort to for determining the presence of a quorum, nor what matters the Speaker or clerk may of their own volition place upon the journal. Neither do the advantages or disadvantages, the wisdom or folly, of such a rule present any matters for judicial consideration. With the courts the question is only one of power. The Constitution empowers each house to determine its rules of proceedings. It may not by its rules ignore constitutional restraints or violate fundamental rights, and there should be a reasonable relation between the mode or method of proceeding established by the rule and the result which is sought to be attained. But within these limitations all matters of method are open to the determination of the house, and it is no impeachment of the rule to say that some other way would be better, more accurate or even more just. It is no objection to the validity of a rule that a different one has been prescribed and in force for a length of time. The power to make rules is not one which once exercised is exhausted. It is a continuous power, always subject to be exercised by the house, and within the limitations suggested, absolute and beyond the challenge of any other body or tribunal.

The Constitution provides that “a majority of each [house) shall constitute a quorum to do business.” In other words, when a majority are present the house is in a position to do business. Its capacity to transact business is then established, created by the mere presence of a majority, and does not depend upon the disposition or assent or action of any single

Opinion of the Court.

member or fraction of the majority present. All that the Constitution requires is the presence of a majority, and when that majority are present the power of the house arises.

But how shall the presence of a majority be determined ? The Constitution has prescribed no method of making this determination, and it is therefore within the competency of the house to prescribe any method which shall be reasonably certain to ascertain the fact. It may prescribe answer to rollcall as the only method of determination; or require the passage of members between tellers, and their count as the sole test; or the count of the Speaker or the clerk, and an announcement from the desk of the names of those who are present. Any one of these methods, it must be conceded, is reasonably certain of ascertaining the fact, and as there is no constitutional method prescribed, and no constitutional inhibition of any of those, and no violation of fundamental rights in any, it follows that the house may adopt either or all, or it may provide for a combination of any two of the methods. That was done by the rule in question; and all that that rule attempts to do is to prescribe a method for ascertaining the presence of a majority, and thus establishing the fact that the house is in a condition to transact business.

As appears from the journal, at the time this bill passed the house there was present a majority, a quorum, and the house was authorized to transact any and all business. It was in a condition to act on the bill if it desired. The other branch of the question is, whether, a quorum being present, the bill received a sufficient number of votes; and here the general rule of all parliamentary bodies is that, when a quorum is present, the act of a majority of the quorum is the act of the body. This has been the rule for all time, except so far as in any given case the terms of the organic act under which the body is assembled have prescribed specific limitations. As, for instance, in those States where the constitution provides that a majority of all the members elected to either house shall be necessary for the passage of any bill. No such limitation is found in the Federal Constitution, and therefore the general law of such bodies obtains.

« PreviousContinue »