Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


decided: December 11, 1899.



Author: Harlan

[ 175 U.S. Page 450]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

In the light of this history of the claim of the La Abra

[ 175 U.S. Page 451]

     Company we proceed to the consideration of such of the principal questions presented in argument as are essential to the disposition of the case.

I. If, as insisted by the appellants, the above act of December 28, 1892, was not so approved by the President as to become under the Constitution a law, it would be unnecessary to consider any other question raised by the pleadings; for that act is the only basis of jurisdiction in the Court of Claims to render a judgment that would be conclusive between the parties and which could be reviewed by this court. We must therefore first consider whether that act is liable to the constitutional objection just stated.

The ground of this contention is that having met in regular session at the time appointed by law, the first Monday of December, 1892, and having on the 22d day of that month (two days after the presentation of the bill to the President) by the joint action of the two Houses taken a recess to a named day, January 4, 1893, Congress was not actually sitting when the President on the 28th day of December, 1892, by signing it formally approved the act in question. The proposition, plainly stated, is that a bill passed by Congress and duly presented to the President does not become a law if his approval be given on a day when Congress is in recess. This implies that the constitutional power of the President to approve a bill so as to make it a law is absolutely suspended while Congress is in recess for a fixed time. It would follow from this that if both Houses of Congress by their joint or separate action were in recess from some Friday until the succeeding Monday, the President could not exercise that power on the intervening Saturday. Indeed, according to the argument of counsel the President could not effectively approve a bill on any day when one of the Houses, by its own separate action, was legally in recess for that day in order that necessary repairs be made in the room in which its sessions were being held. Yet many public acts and joint resolutions of great importance together with many private acts have been treated as valid and enforceable which were approved by the President during the recesses of Congress covering the

[ 175 U.S. Page 452]

     Christmas holidays. In the margin will be found a reference to some of the more recent of those statutes.*fn1

Do the words of the Constitution, reasonably interpreted, sustain the views advanced for appellant?

That instrument provides:

"The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by law appoint a different day." Art. I, § 4.

"Neither House, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting." Art. I, § 5.

"Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approves, he shall sign it, but if not, he shall return it, with his objections, to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on the journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that

[ 175 U.S. Page 453]

     House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House, respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress, by their adjournment, prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law." Art. I, § 7.

"Every order, resolution or vote, to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary, (except on a case of adjournment,) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the same shall take effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the case of a bill." Art. I, § 8.

It is said that the approval by the President of a bill passed by Congress is not strictly an executive function, but is legislative in its nature; and this view, it is argued, conclusively shows that his approval can legally occur only on a day when both Houses are actually sitting in the performance of legislative functions. Undoubtedly the President when approving bills passed by Congress may be said to participate in the enactment of laws which the Constitution requires him to execute. But that consideration does not determine the question before us. As the Constitution while authorizing the President to perform certain functions of a limited number that are legislative in their general nature does not restrict the exercise of those functions to the particular days on which the two Houses of Congress are actually sitting in the transaction of public business, the court cannot impose such a restriction upon the Executive. It is made his duty by the Constitution to examine and act upon every bill passed by Congress. The time within which he must approve or disapprove

[ 175 U.S. Page 454]

     a bill is prescribed. If he approve a bill, it is made his duty to sign it. The Constitution is silent as to the time of his signing, except that his approval of a bill duly presented to him -- if the bill is to become a law merely by virtue of such approval -- must be manifested by his signature within ten days, Sundays excepted, after the bill has been presented to him. It necessarily results that a bill when so signed becomes from that moment a law. But in order that his refusal or failure to act may not defeat the will of the people, as expressed by Congress, if a bill be not approved and be not returned to the House in which it originated within that time, it becomes a law in like manner as if it had been signed by him. We perceive nothing in these constitutional provisions making the approval of a bill by the President a nullity if such approval occurs while the two Houses of Congress are in recess for a named time. After a bill has been presented to the President, no further action is required by Congress in respect of that bill unless it be disapproved by him and within the time prescribed by the Constitution be returned for reconsideration. It has properly been the practice of the President to inform Congress by message of his approval of bills, so that the fact may be recorded. But the essential thing to be done in order that a bill may become a law by the approval of the President is that it be signed within the prescribed time after being presented to him. That being done, and as soon as done, whether Congress is informed or not by message from the President of the fact of his approval of it, the bill becomes a law, and is delivered to the Secretary of State as required by law.

Much of the argument of counsel seems to rest upon the provision in relation to the final adjournment of Congress for the session, whereby the President is prevented from returning, within the period prescribed by the Constitution, a bill that be disapproves and is unwilling to sign. But the Constitution places the approval and disapproval of bills, as to their becoming laws, upon a different basis. If the President does not approve a bill, he is required within a named time to send it back for consideration. But if by its action, after the

[ 175 U.S. Page 455]

     presentation of a bill to the President during the time given him by the Constitution for an examination of its provisions and for approving it by his signature, Congress puts it out of his power to return it, not approved, within that time to the House in which it originated, then the bill falls, and does not become a law.

Whether the President can sign a bill after the final adjournment of Congress for the session, is a question not arising in this case, and has not been considered or decided by us. We adjudge -- and touching this branch of the case adjudge nothing more -- that the act of 1892 having been presented to the President while Congress was sitting and having been signed by him when Congress was in recess for a specified time, but within ten days, Sundays excepted, after it was so presented to him, was effectively approved, and immediately became a law, unless its provisions are repugnant to the Constitution.

II. It is said that the present proceeding based on the act of 1892 is not a "case" within the meaning of that clause of the Constitution declaring that the judicial power of the United States shall extend to all cases in law and equity arising under that instrument, the laws of the United States, or treaties made or which shall be made under their authority. Art. III, § 2. This Article, as has been adjudged, does not extend the judicial power to every violation of the Constitution that may possibly take place, but only "to a case in law or equity, in which a right, under such law, is asserted in a court of justice. If the question cannot be brought into a court, then there is no case in law or equity, and no jurisdiction is given by the words of the Article. But if, in any controversy depending in a court, the cause should depend on the validity of such a law, that would be a case arising under the Constitution to which the judicial power of the United States would extend." Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 405. In the same case, Chief Justice Marshall declared a suit to be the prosecution by a party of some claim, demand or request in a court of justice for the purpose of being put in possession of a right claimed by him and of which he was deprived.

[ 175 U.S. Page 456]

     Referring to the provision defining the judicial power of the United States, the court in a subsequent case said: "This clause enables the judicial department to receive jurisdiction to the full extent of the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States, when any question respecting them shall receive such a form that the judicial power is capable of acting on it. That power is capable of acting only when a subject is submitted to it by a party who asserts his rights in the form prescribed by law. It then becomes a case, and the Constitution declares that the judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States." Osborn v. United States Bank, 9 Wheat. 738, 819. In Murray v. Hoboken, 18 How. 272, 284, this court said that Congress can neither "withdraw from judicial cognizance any matter which, from its nature, is the subject of a suit at the common law, or in equity, or admiralty; nor, on the other hand, can it bring under the judicial power a matter which, from its nature, is not a subject for judicial determination." But in the same case it was observed by Mr. Justice Curtis, speaking for the court, that "there are matters involving public rights which may be presented in such form that the judicial power is capable of acting on them, and which are susceptible of judicial determination, but which Congress may or may not bring within the cognizance of the courts of the United States, as it may deem proper." Of like import was the judgment in Smith v. Adams, 130 U.S. 167, 173, in which the court said that the terms "cases" and "controversies" in the Constitution embraced "the claims or contentions of litigants brought before the courts for adjudication by regular proceedings established for the protection or enforcements of rights, or the prevention, redress or punishment of wrongs."

The principles announced in the above cases are illustrated by the opinion prepared by Chief Justice Taney for the case of Gordon v. United States, 2 Wall. 561, and printed in 117 U.S. 697. That case was brought to this court from the Court of Claims, and related to a demand asserted against the United States. The principal question was whether this court had jurisdiction to review the final order made in the court

[ 175 U.S. Page 457]

     below. The Chief Justice died before the case was decided and the opinion prepared by him in recess was not formally accepted. But if the court approved his views, as it undoubtedly did, the appeal was dismissed upon the ground that Congress could not authorize or require this court to express an opinion on a case in which its judicial power could not be exercised, and when its judgment would not be final and conclusive upon the rights of the parties. "The award of execution," Chief Justice Taney said, "is a part, and an essential part, of every judgment passed by a court exercising judicial power. It is no judgment, in the legal sense of the term, without it. Without such an award, the judgment would be inoperative and nugatory, leaving the aggrieved party without a remedy. It would be merely an opinion, which would remain a dead letter, and without any operation upon the rights of the parties, unless Congress should at some future time sanction it, and pass a law authorizing the court to carry its opinion into effect. Such is not the judicial power confided to this court in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction; yet it is the whole power that the court is allowed to exercise under this act of Congress." In a more recent case this court dismissed an appeal from a final order made in the Court of Claims in virtue of a particular statute, observing: "Such a finding is not made obligatory on the department to which it is reported -- certainly not so in terms, and not so, as we think, by any necessary implication. We regard the function of the Court of Claims, in such a case, as ancillary and advisory only. The finding or conclusion reached by that court is not enforceable by any process of execution issuing from the court, nor is it made by the statute the final and indisputable basis of action either by the department or by Congress." In re Sanborn, 148 U.S. 222, 226; Interstate Commerce Commission v. Brimson, 154 U.S. 447, 483.

Under the principles established in the cases above cited, the objections urged against the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims and of this court cannot be maintained, if the present proceeding involves a right which in its nature is susceptible of judicial determination, and if the determination of it by

[ 175 U.S. Page 458]

     the Court of Claims and by this court is not simply ancillary or advisory but is the final and indisputable basis of action by the parties.

The money in the hands of the Secretary of State was paid to the United States by Mexico pursuant to the award of the Commission. That tribunal dealt only with the two Governments, had no relations with claimants, and could take cognizance only of claims presented by or through the respective governments. No claimant, individual or corporate, was entitled to present any demand or proofs directly to the Commission. No evidence could be considered except such as was furnished by or on behalf of the respective governments. While the claims of individual citizens presented by their respective governments were to be considered by the Commission in determining amounts "the whole purpose of the convention was to ascertain how much was due from one government to the other on account of the demands of their respective citizens." And "each government, when it entered into the compact under which the awards were made, relied on the honor and good faith of the other for protection so far as possible against frauds and impositions by the individual claimants." Frelinghuysen v. Key, above cited. As between the United States and Mexico, indeed as between the United States and American claimants, the money received from Mexico under the award of the Commission was in strict law the property of the United States, and no claimant could assert or enforce any interest in it so long as the Government legally withheld it from distribution.

When the La Abra Company asked the intervention of the United States it did so on the condition imposed by the principles of comity recognized by all civilized nations, that it would act in entire good faith, and not put the government whose aid it sought in the attitude of asserting against the Mexican Republic a fraudulent or fictitious claim; consequently the United States, under its duty to that Republic, was required to withhold any sum awarded and paid on account of the Company's claim if it appeared that such claim was of that character. As between the United States and the

[ 175 U.S. Page 459]

     Company, the honesty or genuineness of the latter's claim was open to inquiry in some appropriate mode for the purpose of fair dealing with the government against which such claim was made through the United States. We so adjudged in the Key case. The United States assumed the responsibility of presenting the La Abra claim and made it its own in seeking redress from the Mexican Republic. But from such action on its part no contract obligations arose with the La Abra Company "to assume their frauds and to collect on their account all that, by their imposition of false testimony, might be given in the awards of the Commission." Boynton v. Blaine, above cited.

These considerations make it clear that the act of 1892 is not liable to the objection that it subjected to judicial determination a matter committed by the Constitution to the exclusive control of the President. The subject was one in which Congress had an interest, and in respect to which it could give directions by means of a legislative enactment. The question for the determination of which the present suit was directed to be instituted was whether the award made by the Commission in respect to the claim of the La Abra Company was obtained as to the whole sum included therein or as to any part thereof, by fraud effectuated by means of false swearing or other false and fraudulent practices on the part of the Company, or its agents, attorneys or assigns. It cannot, we think, be seriously disputed that the question whether fraud has or has not been committed in presenting or prosecuting a demand or claim before a tribunal having authority to allow or disallow it is peculiarly judicial in its nature, and that in ascertaining the facts material in such an inquiry no means are so effectual as those employed by or in a court of justice. The Executive branch of the Government recognized the inadequacy for such an investigation of any means it possessed, and declared that Congress by its "plenary authority" ought not only to decide whether such an investigation should be made, but provide an adequate procedure for its conduct and prescribe the consequences to follow therefrom. The suggestion that the question of fraud be committed to the determination of a judicial

[ 175 U.S. Page 460]

     tribunal first came from the Executive branch of the Government. Undoubtedly Congress, having in view the honor of the Government and the relations of this country with Mexico, could have determined the whole question of fraud for itself, and by a statute, approved by the President, or which being disapproved by him was passed by the requisite constitutional vote, have directed the return to Mexico, the other party to the award, of such moneys as had been paid into the hands of the Secretary of State. It is also clear that in the absence of any statute suspending the distribution of such moneys, the President could have ignored the charges of fraud and ordered the distribution to proceed according to the terms of the treaty and the award. But it does not follow that Congress was without power, no distribution having been made, to control the whole matter by plenary legislation.

It has been adjudged that Congress by legislation, and so far as the people and authorities of the United States are concerned, could abrogate a treaty made between this country and another country which had been negotiated by the President and approved by the Senate. Head Money cases, 112 U.S. 580, 599; Whitney v. Robertson, 124 U.S. 190, 194; Chinese Exclusion case, 130 U.S. 581, 600; Fong Yue Ting v. United States, 149 U.S. 698, 721. It is therefore difficult to perceive any ground upon which to question its power to make the distribution of moneys in the hands of the Secretary of State -- representing in that matter the United States and not simply the President -- depend upon the result of a suit by which the United States would be bound and in which the claimants to the fund in question could be heard as parties, and which was to be brought in a court of the United States by its authority, for the purpose of determining whether the La Abra Company, its agents or assigns had been guilty of fraud in the matter of the claim that it procured to be presented to the Commission. The act of 1892 is to be taken as a recognition, so far as the United States is concerned, of the legal right of the Company to receive the moneys in question unless it appeared upon judicial investigation that the

[ 175 U.S. Page 461]

     United States was entitled, by reason of fraud practised in the interest of that corporation, to withhold such moneys from it. Here then is a matter subjected to judicial investigation in respect of which the parties assert rights -- the United States insisting upon its right under the principles of international comity to withhold moneys received by it under a treaty on account of a certain claim presented through it before the Commission organized under that treaty in the belief, superinduced by the claimant, that it was an honest demand; the claimant insisting upon its absolute legal right under the treaty and the award of the Commission, independently of any question of fraud, to receive the money and disputing the right of the United States upon any ground to withhold the sum awarded. We entertain no doubt these rights are susceptible of judicial determination within the meaning of the adjudged cases relating to the judicial power of the courts of the United States as distinguished from the powers committed to the Executive branch of the Government.

It remains, in our consideration of the question of jurisdiction, to inquire whether the judgment authorized by the act of 1892 to be rendered would be a final, conclusive determination, as between the United States and the defendants, of the rights claimed by them respectively, or only ancillary or advisory. In our opinion the act of Congress authorized a final judgment of the former character and therefore the judgment of the Court of Claims is reviewable by this court in the exercise of its appellate judicial power. If our judgment should be one of affirmance then the La Abra Company, and its legal representatives or assigns are barred of all claim, legal or equitable, to the money received by the United States from the Republic of Mexico on account of the award of the Commission. Such a determination would rest upon the broad ground that the United States in its efforts to protect the alleged rights of an American corporation had been the victim of fraud upon the part of that corporation, its agents or assigns, and was in law relieved from any responsibility to that corporation touching the claim in question

[ 175 U.S. Page 462]

     or the moneys received on account of it. If, on the other hand, this court should find that the charges of fraud were not sustained or were disproved, and reverse the decree of the Court of Claims, then it would become the absolute legal duty of the Secretary of State to proceed in the distribution of the moneys in his hands according to the terms of the award. It was competent for Congress by statute to impose that duty upon him and he could not refuse to obey the mandate of the law.

Much was said in argument about the interference by the act of 1892 with the discharge by the President of his constitutional functions in connection with matters involved in the relations between this country and the Republic of Mexico. For reasons already given this contention cannot be sustained. It is without support in anything done or said by the eminent jurists who have presided over the Department of State since the controversy arose as to the integrity of the claim made by the La Abra Company. On the contrary, those officers have uniformly insisted that the authority of Congress was plenary to determine whether the award in respect of those claims was procured by fraud practised on the part of that Company and whether in that event the Company should be barred of any claim to the moneys received from the Republic of Mexico. Upon this question the legislative and executive branches of the Government have acted in perfect harmony. The question arises under the Constitution of the United States and a treaty made by the United States with a foreign country, is judicial in its nature, and one to which the judicial power of the United States is expressly extended. Both branches of the Government were concerned in the enactment subjecting that question to judicial determination, and it cannot properly be said that the President by approving the act of 1892 or by recognizing its binding force surrendered any function belonging to him under the supreme law of the land.

It was also said in argument that the act of Congress in some way -- not clearly defined by counsel -- was inconsistent with the principles underlying international arbitration, a

[ 175 U.S. Page 463]

     mode for the settlement of disputes between sovereign States that is now more than ever before approved by civilized nations. We might well doubt the soundness of any conclusion that could be regarded as weakening or tending to weaken the force that should be attached to the finality of an award made by an international tribunal of arbitration. So far from the act of Congress having any result of that character, the effect of such legislation is to strengthen the principle that an award by a tribunal acting under the joint authority of two countries is conclusive between the governments concerned and must be executed in good faith unless there be ground to impeach the integrity of the tribunal itself. The act of 1892 is a recognition of the principle that "international arbitration must always proceed on the highest principles of national honor and integrity." Frelinghuysen v. Key, above cited. By that act the United States declares that its citizens shall not through its agency reap the fruits of a fraudulent demand which they had induced it to assert against another country. Such legislation is an assurance in the most solemn and binding form that the Government of this country will exert all the power it possesses to enforce good faith upon the part of citizens who, alleging that they have been wronged by the authorities of another country, seek the intervention of their Government to obtain redress.

We hold that the act of 1892 is not unconstitutional upon any of the grounds adverted to; that the Court of Claims had jurisdiction to render the decree in question; that such decree, unless reversed, is binding upon the parties to this cause; and that this court, in the exercise of its appellate power, has authority to re-examine that decree and make such order or give such direction as may be consistent with law.

III. The Court of Claims did not make a finding of facts. It is therefore contended on behalf of the United States that the appeal provided for by the act of 1892 does not authorize a reexamination of the evidence, as in equity cases generally; and that the present case comes within the rule prescribed by this court under the authority of the act of March 3, 1863, 12 Stat. 766, c. 92; Rev. Stat. § 708, providing that in connection

[ 175 U.S. Page 464]

     with any final judgment rendered in the Court of Claims there ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.