subjectMy present aim is to illustrate the nature of Parliamentary sovereignty as it exists in England, by a comparison with the system of government known as Federalism as it exists in several parts of the civilised world, and especially in the United States of America.
Federalism best understood by studying constitution united States There are indeed to be found at the present time three other noteworthy examples of federal government—the Swiss Confederation, the Dominion of Canada, and the German Empire. But while from a study of the institutions of each of these states one may draw illustrations which throw light on our subject, it will be best to keep our attention throughout this chapter fixed mainly on the institutions of the great American Republic. And this for two reasons. The Union, in the first place, presents the most completely developed type of federalism. All the features which mark that scheme of government, and above all the control of the legislature by the Courts, are there exhibited in their most salient and perfect form; the Swiss Confédération , moreover, and the Dominion of Canada, are more or less copied from the American model, whilst the constitution of the German Empire is too full of anomalies, springing both from historical and from temporary causes, to be taken as a fair representative of any known form of government. The Constitution of the United States, in the second place, holds a very peculiar relation towards the institutions of England. In the principle of the distribution of powers which determines its form, the Constitution of the United States is the exact opposite of the English constitution, the very essence of which is, as I hope I have now made clear, the unlimited authority of Parliament. But while the formal differences between the constitution of the American Republic and the constitution of the English monarchy are, looked at from one point of view, immense, the institutions of America are in their spirit little else than a gigantic development of the ideas which lie at the basis of the political and legal institutions of England. The principle, in short, which gives its form to our system of government is (to use a foreign but convenient expression) “unitarianism,” or the habitual exercise of supreme legislative authority by one central power, which in the particular case is the British Parliament. The principle which, on the other hand, shapes every part of the American polity, is that distribution of limited, executive, legislative, and judical authority among bodies each co-ordinate with and independent of the other which, we shall in a moment see, is essential to the federal form of government. The contrast therefore between the two polities is seen in its most salient form, and the results of this difference are made all the more visible because in every other respect the institutions of the English people on each side the Atlantic rest upon the same notions of law, of justice, and of the relation between the rights of individuals and the rights of the government, or the state.
We shall best understand the nature of federalism and the points in which a federal constitution stands in contrast with the Parliamentary constitution of England if we note, first, the conditions essential to the existence of a federal state and the aim with which such a state is formed; secondly, the essential features of a federal union; and lastly, certain characteristics of federalism which result from its very nature, and form points of comparison, or contrast, between a federal polity and a system of Parliamentary sovereignty.
conditions and aim of federalism A federal state requires for its formation two conditions.
countries capable of union There must exist, in the first place, a body of countries such as the Cantons of Switzerland, the Colonies of America, or the Provinces of Canada, so closely connected by locality, by history, by race, or the like, as to be capable of bearing, in the eyes of their inhabitants, an impress of common nationality. It will also be generally found (if we appeal to experience) that lands which now form part of a federal state were at some stage of their existence bound together by close alliance or by subjection to a common sovereign. It were going further than facts warrant to assert that this earlier connection is essential to the formation of a federal state. But it is certain that where federalism flourishes it is in general the slowly-matured fruit of some earlier and looser connection.
Existence of federal sentiment A second condition absolutely essential to the founding of a federal system is the existence of a very peculiar state of sentiment among the inhabitants of the countries which it is proposed to unite. They must desire union, and must not desire unity. If there be no desire to unite, there is clearly no basis for federalism; the wild scheme entertained (it is said) under the Commonwealth of forming a union between the English Republic and the United Provinces was one of those dreams which may haunt the imagination of politicians but can never be transformed into fact. If, on the other hand, there be a desire for unity, the wish will naturally find its satisfaction, not under a federal, but under a unitarian constitution; the experience of England and Scotland in the eighteenth and of the states of Italy in the nineteenth century shows that the sense of common interests, or common national feeling, may be too strong to allow of that combination of union and separation which is the foundation of federalism. The phase of sentiment, in short, which forms a necessary condition for the formation of a federal state is that the people of the proposed state should wish to form for many purposes a single nation, yet should not wish to surrender the individual existence of each man's State or Canton. We may perhaps go a little farther, and say, that a federal government will hardly be formed unless many of the inhabitants of the separate States feel stronger allegiance to their own State than to the federal state represented by the common government. This was certainly the case in America towards the end of the eighteenth century, and in Switzerland at the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1787 a Virginian or a citizen of Massachusetts felt a far stronger attachment to Virginia or to Massachusetts than to the body of the confederated States. In 1848 the citizens of Lucerne felt far keener loyalty to their Canton than to the confederacy, and the same thing, no doubt, held true in a less degree of the men of Berne or of Zurich. The sentiment therefore which creates a federal state is the prevalence throughout the citizens of more or less allied countries of two feelings which are to a certain extent inconsistent—the desire for national unity and the determination to maintain the independence of each man's separate State. The aim of federalism is to give effect as far as possible to both these sentiments.
The aim of federalism. A federal state is a political contrivance intended to reconcile national unity and power with the maintenance of “state rights.” “The end aimed at fixes the essential character of federalism. For the method by which Federalism attempts to reconcile the apparently inconsistent claims of national sovereignty and of state sovereignty consists of the formation of a constitution under which the ordinary powers of sovereignty are elaborately divided between the common or national government and the separate states. The details of this division vary under every different federal constitution, but the general principle on which it should rest is obvious. Whatever concerns the nation as a whole should be placed under the control of the national government. All matters which are not primarily of common interest should remain in the hands of the several States. The preamble to the Constitution of the United States recites that
We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The tenth amendment enacts that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.” These two statements, which are reproduced with slight alteration in the constitution of the Swiss Confederation, point out the aim and lay down the fundamental idea of federalism.
illegibleessential char sentiment of federalism united states From the notion that national unity can be reconciled with state independence by a division of powers under a common constitution between the nation on the one hand and the individual States on the other, flow the three leading characteristics of completely developed federalism, —the supremacy of the constitution— the distribution among bodies with limited and co-ordinate authority of the different powers of government— the authority of the Courts to act as interpreters of the constitution.
supremacy of the constitution A federal state derives its existence from the constitution, just as a corporation derives its existence from the grant by which it is created. Hence, every power, executive, legislative, or judicial, whether it belong to the nation or to the individual States, is subordinate to and controlled by the constitution. Neither the President of the United States nor the Houses of Congress, nor the Governor of Massachusetts, nor the Legislature or General Court of Massachusetts, can legally exercise a single power which is inconsistent with the articles of the Constitution. This doctrine of the supremacy of the constitution is familiar to every American, but in England even trained lawyers find a difficulty in following it out of its legitimate consequences. The difficulty arises from the fact that under the English constitution no principle is recognised which bears any real resemblance to the doctrine (essential to federalism) that the Constitution constitutes the “supreme law of the land.” In England we have laws which may be called fundamental or constitutional because they deal with important principles (as, for example, the descent of the Crown or the terms of union with Scotland) lying at the basis of our institutions, but with us there is no such thing as a supreme law, or law which tests the validity of other laws. There are indeed important statutes, such as the Act embodying the Treaty of Union with Scotland, with which it would be political madness to tamper gratuitously; there are utterly unimportant statutes, such, for example, as the Dentists Act, 1878, which may be repealed or modified at the pleasure or caprice of Parliament; but neither the Act of Union with Scotland nor the Dentists Act, 1878, has more claim than the other to be considered a supreme law. Each embodies the will of the sovereign legislative power; each can be legally altered or repealed by Parliament; neither tests the validity of the other. Should the Dentists Act, 1878, unfortunately contravene the terms of the Act of Union, the Act of Union would be pro tanto repealed, but no judge would dream of maintaining that the Dentists Act, 1878, was thereby rendered invalid or unconstitutional. The one fundamental dogma of English constitutional law is the absolute legislative sovereignty or despotism of the King in Parliament. But this dogma is incompatible with the existence of a fundamental compact, the provisions of which control every authority existing under the constitution.
The foundations of a federal state are a complicated contract. This compact contains a variety of terms which have been agreed to, and generally after mature deliberation, by the States which make up the confederacy. To base an arrangement of this kind upon understandings or conventions would be certain to generate misunderstandings and disagreements. The articles of the treaty, or in other words of the consitution, must therefore be reduced to writing. The constitution must be a written document, and, if possible, a written document of which the terms are open to no misapprehension. The founders of the American Union left at least one great question unsettled. This gap in the Constitution gave an opening to the dispute which was the plea, if not the justification, for the war of secession.
Rigid constitution The constitution must be what I have termed a “rigid” or “inexpansive” constitution.
The law of the constitution must be either legally immutable, or else capable of being changed only by some authority above and beyond the ordinary legislative bodies, whether federal or state legislatures, existing under the constitution.
In spite of the doctrine enunciated by some jurists that in every country there must be found some person or body legally capable of changing every institution thereof, it is hard to see why it should be held inconceivable that the founders of a polity should have deliberately omitted to provide any means for lawfully changing its bases. Such an omission would not be unnatural on the part of the authors of a federal union, since one main object of the States entering into the compact is to prevent further encroachments upon their several state rights; and in the fifth article of the United States Constitution may still be read the record of an attempt to give to some of its provisions temporary immutability. The question, however, whether a federal constitution necessarily involves the existence of some ultimate sovereign power authorised to amend or alter its terms is of merely speculative interest, for under existing federal governments the constitution will be found to provide the means for its own improvement. It is, at any rate, certain that whenever the founders of a federal government hold the maintenance of a federal system to be of primary importance, supreme legislative power cannot be safely vested in any ordinary legislature acting under the constitution. For so to vest legislative sovereignty would be inconsistent with the aim of federalism, namely, the permanent division between the spheres of the national government and of the several States. If Congress could legally change the Constitution, New York and Massachusetts would have no legal guarantee for the amount of independence reserved to them under the Constitution, and would be as subject to the sovereign power of Congress as is Scotland to the sovereignty of Parliament; the Union would cease to be a federal state, and would become a unitarian republic. If, on the other hand, the legislature of South Carolina could of its own will amend the Constitution, the authority of the central government would (from a legal point of view) be illusory; the United States would sink from a nation into a collection of independent countries united by the bond of a more or less permanent alliance. Hence the power of amending the Constitution has been placed, so to speak, outside the Constitution, and one may say, with sufficient accuracy for our present purpose, that the legal sovereignty of the United States resides in the States' governments as forming one aggregate body represented by three-fourths of the several States at any time belonging to the Union. Now from the necessity for placing ultimate legislative authority in some body outside the Constitution a remarkable consequence ensues. Under a federal as under a unitarian system there exists a sovereign power, but the sovereign is in a federal state a despot hard to rouse. He is not, like the English Parliament, an ever-wakeful legislator, but a monarch who slumbers and sleeps. The sovereign of the United States has been roused to serious action but once during the course of more than a century. It needed the thunder of the Civil War to break his repose, and it may be doubted whether anything short of impending revolution will ever again arouse him to activity. But a monarch who slumbers for years is like a monarch who does not exist. A federal constitution is capable of change, but for all that a federal constitution is apt to be unchangeable.
Every legislature under federal constitution is a subordinate law-making body Every legislative assembly existing under a federal constitution is merely a subordinate law-making body, whose laws are of the nature of bye-laws, valid whilst within the authority conferred upon it by constitution, but invalid or unconstitutional if they go beyond the limits of such authority.
There is an apparent absurdity in comparing the legislature of the United States to an English railway company or a municipal corporation, but the comparison is just. Congress can, within the limits of its legal powers, pass laws which bind every man throughout the United States. The Great Eastern Railway Company can, in like manner, pass laws which bind every man throughout the British dominions. A law passed by Congress which in in excess of its legal powers, as contravening the Constitution, is invalid; a law passed by the Great Eastern Railway Company in excess of the powers given by Act of Parliament, or, in other words, by the legal constitution of the company, is also invalid; a law passed by Congress is called an “Act” of Congress, and if ultra vires is described as “unconstitutional”; a law passed by the Great Eastern Railway Company is called a “bye-law,” and if ultra vires is called, not “unconstitutional,” but “invalid.” Differences, however, of words must not conceal from us essential similarity in things. Acts of Congress, or of the Legislative Assembly of New York or of Massachusetts, are at bottom simply “bye-laws,” depending for their validity upon their being within the powers given to Congress or to the state legislatures by the Constitution. The bye-laws of the Great Eastern Railway Company, imposing fines upon passengers who travel over their line without a ticket, are laws, but they are laws depending for their validity upon their being within the powers conferred upon the Company by Act of Parliament, i.e. by the Company's constitution. Congress and the Great Eastern Railway Company are in truth each of them nothing more than subordinate law-making bodies. Their power differs not in degree, but in kind, from the authority of the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Distribution of owers The distribution of powers is an essential feature of federalism. The object for which a federal state is formed involves a division of authority between the national government and the separate States. The powers given to the nation form in effect so many limitations upon the authority of the separate States, and as it is not intended that the central government should have the opportunity of encroaching upon the rights retained by the States, its sphere of action necessarily becomes the object of rigorous definition. The Constitution, for instance, of the United States delegates special and closely defined powers to the executive, to the legislature, and to the judiciary of the Union, or in effect to the Union itself, whilst it provides that the powers “not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.”
Division of illegible beyond necessary limit This is all the amount of division which is essential to a federal constitution. But the principle of definition and limitation of powers harmonises so well with the federal spirit that it is generally carried much farther than is dictated by the mere logic of the constitution. Thus the authority assigned to the United States under the Constitution is not concentrated in any single official or body of officials. The President has definite rights, upon which neither Congress nor the judicial department can encroach. Congress has but a limited, indeed a very limited, power of legislation, for it can make laws upon eighteen topics only; yet within its own sphere it is independent both of the President and of the Federal Courts. So, lastly, the judiciary have their own powers. They stand on a level both with the President and with Congress, and their authority (being directly derived from the constitution) cannot, without a distinct violation of law, be trenched upon either by the executive or by the legislature. Where, further, States are federally united, certain principles of policy or of justice must be enforced upon the whole confederated body as well as upon the separate parts thereof, and the very inflexibility of the constitution tempts legislators to place among constitutional articles maxims which (though not in their nature constitutional) have special claims upon respect and observance. Hence spring additional restrictions on the power both of the federation and of the separate states. The United States Constitution prohibits both to Congress and to the separate States the passing of a bill of attainder or an ex post facto law, the granting of any title of nobility, or in effect the laying of any tax on articles exported from any State, enjoins that full faith shall be given to the public acts and judicial proceedings of every other State, hinders any State from passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts, and prevents every State from entering into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; thus it provides that the elementary principles of justice, freedom of trade, and the rights of individual property shall be absolutely respected throughout the length and breadth of the Union. It further ensures that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, while it also provides that no member can be expelled from either House of Congress without the concurrence of two-thirds of the House. Other federal constitutions go far beyond that of the United States in ascribing among constitutional articles either principles or petty rules which are supposed to have a claim of legal sanctity; the Swiss Constitution is full of “guaranteed” rights.
Nothing, however, would appear to an English critic to afford so striking an example of the connection between federalism and the “limitation of powers” as the way in which the principles of the federal Constitution pervade in America the constitutions of the separate States. In no case does the legislature of any one State possess all the powers of “state sovereignty” left to the States by the Constitution of the Republic, and every state legislature is subordinated to the constitution of the State. The ordinary legislature of New York or Massachusetts can no more change the state constitution than it can alter the Constitution of the United States itself; and, though the topic cannot be worked out here in detail, it may safely be asserted that state government throughout the Union is formed upon the federal model, and (what is noteworthy) that state constitutions have carried much further than the Constitution of the Republic the tendency to clothe with constitutional immutability any rules which strike the people as important. Illinois has embodied, among fundamental laws, regulations as to elevators.
But here, as in other cases, there is great difficulty in distinguishing cause and effect. If a federal form of government has affected, as it probably has, the constitutions of the separate States, it is certain that features originally existing in the State constitutions have been reproduced in the Constitution of the Union; and, as we shall see in a moment, the most characteristic institution of the United States, the Federal Court, appears to have been suggested at least to the founders of the Republic, by the relation which before 1789 already existed between the state tribunals and the state legislatures.
Division of powers distinguishes federal from unitarian system of government. The tendency of federalism to limit on every side the action of government and to split up the strength of the state among coordinate and independent authorities is specially noticeable, because it forms the essential distinction between a federal system such as that of America or Switzerland, and a Unitarian system of government such as that which exists in England or Russia. We talk indeed of the English constitution as resting on a balance of powers, and as maintaining a division between the executive, the legislative, and the judicial bodies. These expressions have a real meaning. But they have quite a different significance as applied to England from the sense which they bear as applied to the United States. All the power of the English state is concentrated in the Imperial Parliament, and all departments of government are legally subject to Parliamentary despotism. Our judges are independent, in the sense of holding their office by a permanent tenure, and of being raised above the direct influence of the Crown or the Ministry; but the judicial department does not pretend to stand on a level with Parliament; its functions might be modified at any time by an Act of Parliament; and such a statute would be no violation of the law. The Federal Judiciary, on the other hand, are co-ordinate with the President and with Congress, and cannot without a revolution be deprived of a single right by President or Congress. So, again, the executive and the legislature are with us distinct bodies, but they are not distinct in the sense in which the President is distinct from and independent of the Houses of Congress. The House of Commons interferes with administrative matters, and the Ministry are in truth placed and kept in office by the House. A modern Cabinet would not hold power for a week if censured by a newly elected House of Commons. An American President may retain his post and exercise his very important functions even though his bitterest opponents command majorities both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. Unitarianism, in short, means the concentration of the strength of the state in the hands of one visible sovereign power, be that power Parliament or Czar. Federalism means the distribution of the force of the state among a number of co-ordinate bodies each originating in and controlled by the constitution.
Authority Courts Whenever there exists, as in Belgium or in France, a more or less rigid constitution, the articles of which cannot be amended by the ordinary legislature, the difficulty has to be met of guarding against legislation inconsistent with the constitution. As Belgian and French statesmen have created no machinery for the attainment of this object, we may condude that they considered respect for the constitution to be sufficiently secured by moral or political sanctions, and treated the limitations placed on the power of Parliament rather as maxims of policy than as true laws. During a period, at any rate of more than sixty years, no Belgian judge has (it is said) ever pronounced a Parliamentary enactment unconstitutional. No French tribunal, as has been already pointed out, would hold itself at liberty to disregard an enactment, however unconstitutional, passed by the National Assembly, inserted in the Bulletin des Lois, and supported by the force of the government; and French statesmen may well have thought, as Tocqueville certainly did think, that in France possible Parliamentary invasions of the constitution were a less evil than the participation of the judges in political conflicts. France, in short, and Belgium being governed under unitarian constitutions, the non-sovereign character of the legislature is in each case an accident, not an essential property of their polity. Under a federal system it is otherwise. The legal supremacy of the constitution is essential to the existence of the state; the glory of the founders of the United States is to have devised or adopted arrangements under which the Constitution became in reality as well as name the supreme law of the land.
This end they attained by adherence to a very obvious principle, and by the invention of appropriate machinery for carrying this principle into effect.
How authority of the Courts of exerted. The principle is clearly expressed in the Constitution of the United States (article 6):
The Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
The import of these expressions is unmistakable. Chancellor Kent writes:
Every Act of Congress and every Act of the legislatures of the States, and every part of the constitution of any State, which are repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, are necessarily void. This is a dear and settled principle of [our] constitutional jurisprudence.
The legal duty therefore of every judge, whether he act as a judge of the State of New York or as a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, is clear. He is bound to treat as void every legislative act, whether proceeding from Congress or from the state legislatures, which is inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States. His duty is as clear as that of an English judge called upon to determine the validity of a bye-law made by the Great Eastern or any other Railway Company. The American judge must in giving judgment obey the terms of the Constitution, just as his English brother must in giving judgment obey every Act of Parliament bearing on the case.
Supremacy of constitution secured by creation of Supreme Court. To have laid down the principle with distinctness is much, but the great problem was how to ensure that the principle should be obeyed; for there existed a danger that judges depending on the federal government should wrest the Constitution in favour of the central power, and that judges created by the States should wrest it in favour of State rights or interests. This problem has been solved by the creation of the Supreme Court and of the Federal Judiciary.
illegible and illegible of supereme Cour Of the nature and position of the Supreme Court itself thus much alone need for our present purpose be noted. The Court derives its existence from the Constitution, and stands therefore on an equality with the President and with Congress; the members thereof (in common with every judge of the Federal Judiciary) hold their places during good behaviour, at salaries which cannot be diminished during a judge's tenure of office. The Supreme Court stands at the head of the whole federal judicial department, which, extending by its subordinate Courts throughout the Union, can execute its judgments through its own officers without requiring the aid of state officials. The Supreme Court, though it has a certain amount of original jurisdiction, derives its importance from its appellate character; it is on every matter which concerns the interpretation of the Constitution a supreme and final Court of Appeal from the decision of every Court (whether a Federal Court or a State Court) throughout the Union. It is in fact the final interpreter of the Constitution, and therefore has authority to pronounce finally as a Court of Appeal whether a law passed either by Congress or by the legislature of a State, e.g. New York, is or is not constitutional. To understand the position of the Supreme Court we must bear in mind that there exist throughout the Union two classes of Courts in which proceedings can be commenced, namely, the subordinate federal Courts deriving their authority from the Constitution, and the state Courts, e.g. of New York or Massachusetts, created by and existing under the state constitutions; and that the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary and the state judiciary is in many cases concurrent, for though the jurisdiction of the federal Courts is mainly confined to cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, it is also frequently dependent upon the character of the parties, and though there are cases with which no state Court can deal, such a Court may often entertain cases which might be brought in a federal Court, and constantly has to consider the effect of the Constitution on the validity either of a law passed by Congress or of state legislation. That the Supreme Court should be a Court of Appeal from the decision of the subordinate federal tribunals is a matter which excites no surprise. The point to be noted is that it is also a Court of Appeal from decisions of the Supreme Court of any State, e.g. New York, which turn upon or interpret the articles of the Constitution or Acts of Congress. The particular cases in which a party aggrieved by the decision of a state Court has a right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States are regulated by an Act of Congress of 24th September 1789, the twenty-fifth section of which provides that
a final judgment or decree, in any suit in the highest court of law or equity of a State, may be brought up on error in point of law, to the Supreme Court of the United States, provided the validity of a treaty, or statute of, or authority exercised under the United States, was drawn in question in the state court, and the decision was against the validity; or provided the validity of any state authority was drawn in question, on the ground of its being repugnant to the Constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States, and the decision was in favour of its validity; or provided the construction of any clause of the Constitution or of a treaty, or statute of, or commission held under the United States, was drawn in question, and the decision was against the title, right, privilege, or exemption, specially claimed under the authority of the Union.
Strip this enactment of its technicalities and it comes to this. A party to a case in the highest Court, say of New York, who bases his claim or defence upon an article in the Constitution or law made under it, stands in this position: If judgment be in his favour there is no further appeal; if judgment goes against him, he has a right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. Any lawyer can see at a glance how well devised is the arrangement to encourage state Courts in the performance of their duty as guardians of the Constitution, and further that the Supreme Court thereby becomes the ultimate arbiter of all matters affecting the Constitution.
Let no one for a moment fancy that the right of every Court, and ultimately of the Supreme Court, to pronounce on the constitutionality of legislation and on the rights possessed by different authorities under the Constitution is one rarely exercised, for it is in fact a right which is constantly exerted without exciting any more surprise on the part of the citizens of the Union than does in England a judgment of the King's Bench Division treating as invalid the bye-law of a railway company. The American tribunals have dealt with matters of supreme consequence; they have determined that Congress has the right to give priority to debts due to the United States, can lawfully incorporate a bank, has a general power to levy or collect taxes without any restraint, but subject to definite principles of uniformity prescribed by the Constitution; the tribunals have settled what is the power of Congress over the militia, who is the person who has a right to command it, and that the power exercised by Congress during the War of Secession of issuing paper money was valid. The Courts again have controlled the power of the separate States fully as vigorously as they have defined the authority of the United States. The judiciary have pronounced unconstitutional every ex post facto law, every law taxing even in the slightest degree articles exported from any State, and have again deprived of effect state laws impairing the obligation of contracts. To the judiciary in short are due the maintenance of justice, the existence of internal free trade, and the general respect for the rights of property; whilst a recent decision shows that the Courts are prepared to uphold as consistent with the Constitution any laws which prohibit modes of using private property, which seem to the judges inconsistent with public interest. The power moreover of the Courts which maintains the articles of the Constitution as the law of the land, and thereby keeps each authority within its proper sphere, is exerted with an ease and regularity which has astounded and perplexed continental critics. The explanation is that while the judges of the United States control the action of the Constitution, they nevertheless perform purely judicial functions, since they never decide anything but the cases before them. It is natural to say that the Supreme Court pronounces Acts of Congress invalid, but in fact this is not so. The Court never directly pronounces any opinion whatever upon an Act of Congress. What the Court does do is simply to determine that in a given case A is or is not entitled to recover judgment against X; but in determining that case the Court may decide that an Act of Congress is not to be taken into account, since it is an Act beyond the constitutional powers of Congress.
The true merit of the founders of the United States If any one thinks this is a distinction without a difference he shows some ignorance of politics, and does not understand how much the authority of a Court is increased by confining its action to purely judicial business. But persons who, like Tocqueville, have fully appreciated the wisdom of the statesmen who created the Union, have formed perhaps an exaggerated estimate of their originality. Their true merit was that they applied with extraordinary skill the notions which they had inherited from English law to the novel circumstances of the new republic. To any one imbued with the traditions of English procedure it must have seemed impossible to let a Court decide upon anything but the case before it. To any one who had inhabited a colony governed under a charter the effect of which on the validity of a colonial law was certainly liable to be considered by the Privy Council, there was nothing startling in empowering the judiciary to pronounce in given cases upon the constitutionality of Acts passed by assemblies whose powers were limited by the Constitution, just as the authority of the colonial legislatures was limited by charter or by Act of Parliament. To a French jurist, indeed, filled with the traditions of the French Parliaments, all this might well be incomprehensible, but an English lawyer can easily see that the fathers of the republic treated Acts of Congress as English Courts treat bye-laws, and in forming the Supreme Court may probably have had in mind the functions of the Privy Council. It is still more certain that they had before their eyes cases in which the tribunals of particular States had treated as unconstitutional, and therefore pronounced void, Acts of the state legislature which contravened the state constitution. The earliest case of declaring a law unconstitutional dates (it is said) from 1786, and took place in Rhode Island, which was then, and continued 1842, to be governed under the charter of Charles II. An Act of the legislature was declared unconstitutional by the Courts of North Carolina in 1787 and by the Courts of Virginia in 1788, whilst the Constitution of the United States was not adopted fill 1789, and Marbury v. Madison, the first case in which the Supreme Court dealt with the question of constitutionality, was decided in 1803.
But if their notions were conceptions derived from English law, the great statesmen of America gave to old ideas a perfectly new expansion, and for the first time in the history of the world formed a constitution which should in strictness be “the law of the land,” and in so doing created modern federalism. For the essential characteristics of federalism—the supremacy of the constitution—the distribution of powers—the authority of the judiciary—reappear, though no doubt with modifications, in every true federal state.
illegible Turn for a moment to the Canadian Dominion. The preamble to the British North America Act, 1867, asserts with diplomatic inaccuracy that the Provinces of the present Dominion have expressed their desire to be united into one Dominion “with a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom.” If preambles were intended to express anything like the whole truth, for the word “Kingdom” ought to have been substituted “States”: since it is clear that the Constitution of the Dominion is in its essential features modelled on that of the Union. This is indeed denied, but in my judgment without adequate grounds, by competent Canadian critics. The differences between the institutions of the United States and of the Dominion are of course both considerable and noteworthy. But no one can study the provisions of the British North America Act, 1867, without seeing that its authors had the American Constitution constantly before their eyes, and that if Canada were an independent country it would be a Confederacy governed under a Constitution very similar to that of the United States. The Constitution is the law of the land; it cannot be changed (except within narrow limits allowed by the British North America Act, 1867) either by the Dominion Parliament or by the Provincial Parliaments; it can be altered only by the sovereign power of the British Parliament. Nor does this arise from the Canadian Dominion being a dependency. New Zealand is, like Canada, a colony, but the New Zealand Parliament can with the assent of the Crown do what the Canadian Parliament cannot do—change the colonial constitution. Throughout the Dominion, therefore, the Constitution is in the strictest sense the immutable law of the land. Under this law again, you have, as you would expect, the distribution of powers among bodies of co-ordinate authority; though undoubtedly the powers bestowed on the Dominion Government and Parliament are greater when compared with the powers reserved to the Provinces than are the powers which the Constitution of the United States gives to the federal government. In nothing is this more noticeable than in the authority given to the Dominion Government to disallow Provincial Acts.
This right was possibly given with a view to obviate altogether the necessity for invoking the law Courts as interpreters of the Constitution; the founders of the Confederation appear in fact to have believed that
the care taken to define the respective powers of the several legislative bodies in the Dominion would prevent any troublesome or dangerous conflict of authority arising between the central and local governments.
The futility, however, of a hope grounded on a misconception of the nature of federalism is proved by the existence of two thick volumes of reports filled with cases on the constitutionality of legislative enactments, and by a long list of decisions as to the respective powers possessed by the Dominion and by the Provincial Parliaments— judgments given by the true Supreme Court of the Dominion, namely, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. In Canada, as in the United States, the Courts inevitably become the interpreters of the Constitution.
illegible Swiss federalism repeats, though with noteworthy variations, the essential traits of the federal polity as it exists across the Atlantic. The Constitution is the law of the land, and cannot be changed either by the federal or by the cantonal legislative bodies; the Constitution enforces a distribution of powers between the national government and the Cantons, and directly or indirectly defines and limits the power of every authority existing under it. The Common Government has in Switzerland, as in America, three organs—a Federal Legislature, a Federal Executive (Bundesrath), and a Federal Court (Bundesgericht).
Of the many interesting and instructive peculiarities which give to Swiss federalism an individual character, this is not the occasion to write in detail. It lies, however, within the scope of this chapter to note that the Constitution of the Confederation differs in two most important respects from that of the United States. It does not, in the first place, establish anything like the accurate division between the executive and the judicial departments of government which exists both in America and in Canada; the Executive exercises, under the head of “administrative law,” many functions of a judicial character, and thus, for example, till 1893 dealt in effect with questions having reference to the rights of religious bodies. The Federal Assembly is the final arbiter on all questions as to the respective jurisdiction of the Executive and of the Federal Court. The judges of that Court are elected by the Federal Assembly, they are occupied greatly with questions of public law (Staatsrecht), and so experienced a statesman as Dr. Dubs laments that the Federal Court should possess jurisdiction in matters of private law. When to this it is added that the judgments of the Federal Court are executed by the government, it at once becomes clear that, according to any English standard, Swiss statesmanship has failed as distinctly as American statesmanship has succeeded in keeping the judicial apart from the executive department of government, and that this failure constitutes a serious flaw in the Swiss Constitution. That Constitution, in the second place, does not in reality place the Federal Court on an absolute level with the Federal Assembly. That tribunal cannot question the constitutionality of laws or decrees passed by the Federal Parliament. From this fact one might suppose that the Federal Assembly is (unlike Congress) a sovereign body, but this is not so. The reason why all Acts of the Assembly must be treated as constitutional by the Federal Tribunal is that the Constitution itself almost precludes the possibility of encroachment upon its articles by the federal legislative body. No legal revision can take place without the assent both of a majority of Swiss citizens and of a majority of the Cantons, and an ordinary law duly passed by the Federal Assembly may be legally annulled by a popular veto. The authority of the Swiss Assembly nominally exceeds the authority of Congress, because in reality the Swiss legislative body is weaker than Congress. For while in each case there lies in the background a legislative sovereign capable of controlling the action of the ordinary legislature, the sovereign power is far more easily brought into play in Switzerland than in America. When the sovereign power can easily enforce its will, it may trust to its own action for maintaining its rights; when, as in America, the same power acts but rarely and with difficulty, the Courts naturally become the guardians of the sovereign's will expressed in the articles of the Constitution.
illegible Our survey from a legal point of view of the characteristics common to all federal governments forcibly suggests conclusions of more than merely legal interest, as to the comparative merits of federal government, and the system of Parliamentary sovereignty.
illegible Federal government means weak government.
The distribution of all the powers of the state among co-ordinate authorities necessarily leads to the result that no one authority can wield the same amount of power as under a unitarian constitution as possessed by the sovereign. A scheme again of checks and balances in which the strength of the common government is so to speak pitted against that of the state governments leads, on the face of it, to a certain waste of energy. A federation therefore will always be at a disadvantage in a contest with unitarian states of equal resources. Nor does the experience either of the United States or of the Swiss confederation invalidate this conclusion. The Union is threatened by no powerful neighbours and needs no foreign policy. Circumstances unconnected with constitutional arrangements enable Switzerland to preserve her separate existence, though surrounded by powerful and at times hostile nations. The mutual jealousies moreover incident to federalism do visibly weaken the Swiss Republic. Thus, to take one example only, each member of the Executive must belong to a different canton. But this rule may exclude from the government statesmen of high merit, and therefore diminish the resources of the state. A rule that each member of the Cabinet should be the native of a different county would appear to Englishmen palpably absurd. Yet this absurdity is forced upon Swiss politicians, and affords one among numerous instances in which the efficiency of the public service is sacrificed to the requirements of federal sentiment. Switzerland, moreover, is governed under a form of democratic federalism which tends towards unitarianism. Each revision increases the authority of the nation at the expense of cantonal independence. This is no doubt in part due to the desire to strengthen the nation against foreign attack. It is perhaps also due to another circumstance. Federalism, as it defines, and therefore limits, the powers of each department of the administration, is unfavourable to the interference or to the activity of government. Hence a federal government can hardly render services to the nation by undertaking for the national benefit functions which may be performed by individuals. This may be a merit of the federal system; it is, however, a merit which does not commend itself to modern democrats, and no more curious instance can be found of the inconsistent currents of popular opinion which may at the same time pervade a nation or a generation than the coincidence in England of a vague admiration for federalism alongside with a far more decided feeling against the doctrines of so-called laissez faire. A system meant to maintain the status quo in politics is incompatible with schemes for wide social innovation.
illegible Federalism tends to produce conservatism.
This tendency is due to several causes. The constitution of a Federal state must, as we have seen, generally be not only a written but a rigid constitution, that is, a constitution which cannot be changed by any ordinary process of legislation. Now this essential rigidity of federal institutions is almost certain to impress on the minds of citizens the idea that any provision included in the constitution is immutable and, so to speak, sacred. The least observation of American politics shows how deeply the notion that the Constitution is something placed beyond the reach of amendment has impressed popular imagination. The difficulty of altering the Constitution produces conservative sentiment, and national conservatism doubles the difficulty of altering the Constitution. The House of Lords has lasted for centuries; the American Senate has now existed for more than one hundred years, yet to abolish or alter the House of Lords might turn out to be an easier matter than to modify the constitution of the Senate. To this one must add that a federal constitution always lays down general principles which, from being placed in the constitution, gradually come to command a superstitious reverence, and thus are in fact, though not in theory, protected from change or criticism. The principle that legislation ought not to impair obligation of contracts has governed the whole course of American opinion. Of the conservative effect of such a maxim when forming an article of the constitution we may form some measure by the following reflection. If any principle of the like kind had been recognised in England as legally binding on the Courts, the Irish Land Act would have been unconstitutional and void; the Irish Church Act, 1869, would, in great part at least, have been from a legal point of view so much waste paper, and there would have been great difficulty in legislating in the way in which the English Parliament has legislated for the reform of the Universities. One maxim only among those embodied in the Constitution of the United States would, that is to say, have been sufficient if adopted in England to have arrested the most vigorous efforts of recent Parliamentary legislation.
Legal Spirit Of federalism Federalism, lastly, means legalism— the predominance of the judiciary in the constitution—the prevalence of a spirit of legality among the people.
That in a confederation like the United States the Courts become the pivot on which the constitutional arrangements of the country turn is obvious. Sovereignty is lodged in a body which rarely exerts its authority and has (so to speak) only a potential existence; no legislature throughout the land is more than a subordinate law-making body capable in strictness of enacting nothing but bye-laws; the powers of the executive are again limited by the constitution; the interpreters of the constitution are the judges. The Bench therefore can and must determine the limits to the authority both of the government and of the legislature; its decision is without appeal; the consequence follows that the Bench of judges is not only the guardian but also at a given moment the master of the constitution. Nothing puts in a stronger light the inevitable connection between federalism and the prominent position of the judicial body than the history of modern Switzerland. The statesmen of 1848 desired to give the Bun-desgericht a far less authoritative position than is possessed by the American Supreme Court. They in effect made the Federal Assembly for most, what it still is for some purposes, a final Court of Appeal. But the necessities of the case were too strong for Swiss statesmanship; the revision of 1874 greatly increased the power of the Federal Tribunal.
illegible From the fact that the judicial Bench supports under federal institutions the whole stress of the constitution, a special danger arises lest the judiciary should be unequal to the burden laid upon them. In no country has greater skill been expended on constituting an august and impressive national tribunal than in the United States. Moreover, as already pointed out, the guardianship of the Constitution is in America confided not only to the Supreme Court but to every judge throughout the land. Still it is manifest that even the Supreme Court can hardly support the duties imposed upon it. No one can doubt that the varying decisions given in the legal-tender cases, or in the line of recent judgments of which Munn v. Illinois is a specimen, show that the most honest judges are after all only honest men, and when set to determine matters of policy and statesmanship will necessarily be swayed by political feeling and by reasons of state. But the moment that this bias becomes obvious a Court loses its moral authority, and decisions which might be justified on grounds of policy excite natural indignation and suspicion when they are seen not to be fully justified on grounds of law. American critics indeed are to be found who allege that the Supreme Court not only is proving but always has proved too weak for the burden it is called upon to bear, and that it has from the first been powerless whenever it came into conflict with a State, or could not count upon the support of the Federal Executive. These allegations undoubtedly hit a weak spot in the constitution of the great tribunal. Its judgments are without force, at any rate as against a State if the President refuses the means of putting them into execution. “John Marshall,” said President Jackson, according to a current story, “has delivered his judgment; let him now enforce it, if he can”; and the judgment was never put into force. But the weight of criticisms repeated from the earliest days of the Union may easily be exaggerated. Laymen are apt to mistake the growth of judicial caution for a sign of judicial weakness. Foreign observers, moreover, should notice that in a federation the causes which bring a body such as the Supreme Court into existence, also supply it with a source of ultimate power. The Supreme Court and institutions like it are the protectors of the federal compact, and the validity of that compact is, in the long run, the guarantee for the rights of the separate States. It is the interest of every man who wishes the federal constitution to be observed, that the judgments of the federal tribunals should be respected. It is therefore no bold assumption that, as long as the people of the United States wish to keep up the balanced system of federalism, they will ultimately compel the central government to support the authority of the federal Court. Critics of the Court are almost driven to assert that the American people are indifferent to State Rights. The assertion may or may not be true; it is a matter on which no English critic should speak with confidence. But censures on the working of a federal Court tell very little against such an institution if they establish nothing more than the almost self-evident proposition that a federal tribunal will be ineffective and superfluous when the United States shall have ceased to be in reality a federation. A federal Court has no proper place in a unitarian Republic.
Judges, further, must be appointed by some authority which is not judidal, and where decisions of a Court control the action of government there exists an irresistible temptation to appoint magistrates who agree (honestly it may be) with the views of the executive. A strong argument pressed against Mr. Blaine's election was, that he would have the opportunity as President of nominating four judges, and that a politician allied with railway companies was likely to pack the Supreme Court with men certain to wrest the law in favour of mercantile corporations. The accusation may have been baseless; the fact that it should have been made, and that even “Republicans” should declare that the time had come when “Democrats” should no longer be excluded from the Bench of the United States, tells plainly enough of the special evils which must be weighed against the undoubted benefits of making the Courts rather than the legislature the arbiters of the constitution.
That a federal system again can flourish only among communities imbued with a legal spirit and trained to reverence the law is as certain as can be any conclusion of political speculation. Federalism substitutes litigation for legislation, and none but a law-fearing people will be inclined to regard the decision of a suit as equivalent to the enactment of a law. The main reason why the United States has carried out the federal system with unequalled success is that the people of the Union are more thoroughly imbued with legal ideas than any other existing nation. Constitutional questions arising out of either the constitutions of the separate States or the articles of the federal Constitution are of daily occurrence and constantly occupy the Courts. Hence the citizens become a people of constitutionalists, and matters which excite the strongest popular feeling, as, for instance, the right of Chinese to settle in the country, are determined by the judicial Bench, and the decision of the Bench is acquiesced in by the people. This acquiescence or submission is due to the Americans inheriting the legal notions of the common law, i.e. of the “most legal system of law” (if the expression may be allowed) in the world. Tocqueville long ago remarked that the Swiss fell far short of the Americans in reverence for law and justice. The events of the last sixty years suggest that he perhaps underrated Swiss submission to law. But the law to which Switzerland is accustomed recognises wide discretionary power on the part of the executive, and has never fully severed the functions of the judge from those of the government. Hence Swiss federalism fails, just where one would expect it to fail, in maintaining that complete authority of the Courts which is necessary to the perfect federal system. But the Swiss, though they may not equal the Americans in reverence for judicial decisions, are a law-respecting nation. One may well doubt whether there are many states to be found where the mass of the people would leave so much political influence to the Courts. Yet any nation who cannot acquiesce in the finality of possibly mistaken judgments is hardly fit to form part of a federal state.
THE RULE OF LAW