Learn About the Law
Get help with your legal needs
FindLaw’s Learn About the Law features thousands of informational articles to help you understand your options. And if you’re ready to hire an attorney, find one in your area who can help.
[214 U.S. 320, 322] Messrs. Lucius H. Beers and William G. Choate for plaintiff in error.
[214 U.S. 320, 325] Assistant to the Attorney General Ellis and Messrs. Henry L. Stimson, Winfred T. Denison, and E. P. Grosvenor for defendant in error.
Mr. Justice White delivered the opinion of the court:
The steamship company sought the recovery of money paid to the collector of customs of the port of New York which was exacted by that official under an order of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor. The findings of the court, the case by stipulation having been tried without a jury, leave no doubt that the money was paid to the collector under protest, and involuntarily. We say this because the findings establish that the company was coerced by the certainty that, if it did not pay, the collector would refuse a clearance to its steamships plying between New York city and foreign ports at periodical and definite sailings, whose failure to depart on time would have caused not only grave public inconvenience from the nonfulfilment of mail contracts, but besides would have entailed upon the company the most serious pecuniary loss consequent on its failure to carry out many other contracts.
Both the Secretary and the collector were expressly authorized by law, the one to impose and the other to collect the exactions which were made. The only question, therefore, is whether the power conferred upon the named officials was consistent with the Constitution. The provision under which the officials acted is 9 of March 3, 1903, entitled, 'An Act [214 U.S. 320, 330] to Regulate the Immigration of Aliens into the United States.' 32 Stat. at L. chap. 1012, p. 1213. Light to guide in an analysis of the contentions concerning the asserted repugnancy of the section to the Constitution will be afforded by giving at once the merest outline of some of the comprehensive provisions of the act of which it forms a part.
The act excludes from admission into the United States. among other classes, those afflicted 'with a loathsome or with a dangerous contagious disease.' Sec. 2. It prohibits the importation of persons for immoral purposes or of persons to perform labor or service of any kind, skilled or unskilled, by previous solicitation or agreement. Secs. 3 and 4. It imposes the duty on the master of any vessel having on board alien immigrants to deliver to the immigrant officer at the port of arrival lists made at the port of embarkation. Sec. 12. These lists are required to be verified by the oath of the master of the vessel, taken before the immigrant officer at the port of arrival, to the effect that the surgeon of the vessel, who sails therewith, has physically and orally examined each alien, and that, from such examination by the surgeon, and from his own investigation, the officer of the ship believes that no one of the listed persons is disqualified by law frem entering. This list is also required to be verified by the affidavit of the surgeon, and, in case no surgeon sails with the ship, it is required that the owner of the vessel employ at the port of embarkation a competent surgeon to make the examination. Secs. 13 and 14. Upon the arrival of a vessel in the United States, for the purpose of verifying the lists, immigration officers are authorized to board the vessel, inspect the immigrants, and to disembark them for further inspection and medical examination, the disembarkation for such purposes not to be considered as a landing within the United States. The medical examination, the statute provides, shall be made by medical officers of the United States Marine Hospital Service assigned to such duty, and upon them is imposed the obligation of certifying, 'for the information of the immigration officers and the boards of spe- [214 U.S. 320, 331] cial inquiry hereinafter provided for, any and all physical and mental defects or diseases observed by said medical officers in any such alien.' In case of controversy concerning the right of an alien to land, full provision is made for the taking of testimony, and ultimately, where a right to land is challenged, for a determination of the question by boards of inquiry which the statute creates. Secs. 16, 17, 24. The cost of maintenance pending investigation or treatment of an alien found to be within the prohibited class or classes is cast upon the vessel and its owners, and the duty of returning at its cost such immigrant to the port from which he came is also cast upon the ship or its owner. Sec. 19. The performance of the duties which the act imposes are sanctioned in some cases by the creation of a criminal responsibility, and in others by the imposition of penalties recoverable in civil actions. Thus, among others, it is made a misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment, for any person to bring into or land, or attempt to do so, any alien not duly admitted by an immigrant inspector or not lawfully entitled to enter. Sec. 6. It is made a misdemeanor, punishable upon conviction by fine and imprisonment, to land any alien without complying with the requirements for examination by medical officers as contemplated in the statute. Secs. 17 and 18. And it is also made a misdemeanor, punishable by fine or imprisonment, to knowingly aid or assist or conspire to procure or permit the entry of an alien into the United States contrary to the regulations which the statute provides. Sec. 38. Further, it is made a misdemeanor to refuse to discharge the duty of returning an immigrant, and power is given to refuse clearance to the vessel. Sec. 19. And a penalty, recoverable by civil action, is authorized for violations of 4, relating to the importation of aliens under previous contract. Section 9, which, as we have said, is here involved, is as follows:
The express prohibition against bringing into the United States alien immigrants afflicted with 'loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases,' which the section contains, is so apparent, and the power to enact the prohibition so obvious, that we dismiss these subjects from further consideration. The exaction which the section authorizes the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to impose, when considered in the light afforded by the context of the statute, is clearly but a power given as a sanction to the duty which the statute places on the owners of all vessels, to subject all alien emigrants, prior to bringing them to the United States, to medical examination at the point of embarkation, so as to exclude those afflicted with the prohibited diseases. In other words, the power to impose the exaction which the statute confers on the Secretary is lodged in that officer only when it results from the official medical examination at the point of arrival not only that an alien is afflicted with one of the prohibited diseases, but that the stage of the malady, as disclosed by the examination, establishes that the alien was suffering with the disease at the time of embarkation, and that such fact would have been then discovered had the medical examination been then made by the vessel or its [214 U.S. 320, 333] owners, as the statute requires. We think it is also certain that the power thus lodged in the Secretary of Commerce and Labor was intended to be exclusive, and that its exertion was authorized as the result of the probative force attributed to the official medical examination for which the statute provides, and that the power to refuse clearance to vessels was lodged for the express purpose of causing both the imposition of the exaction and its collection to be acts of administrative competency, not requiring a resort to judicial power for their enforcement. While we have said that the conclusions just stated are clearly sustained by the text, yet, if ambiguity be conceded, it is dispelled and the same result is reached by a consideration of the report of the Senate committee on immigration, where the provisions originated, and which we have a right to consider as a guide to its true interpretation. The Delaware, 161 U.S. 459 , 40 L. ed. 771, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 516; Buttfield v. Stranahan, 192 U.S. 470, 495 , 48 S. L. ed. 525, 535, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 349. In that report it was said:
Resting, as the statute does, upon the authority of Congress over foreign commerce and its right to control the coming in of aliens into the United States, and to regulate that subject in the fullest degree, reserving for future consideration the particular contentions advanced at bar by the plaintiff in error, it may not be doubted that it is not open to discussion that the statute, as thus construed, was within the power of Congress to enact. In Buttfield v. Stranahan, 192 U.S. 470 , 48 L. ed. 525, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 349, considering the subject, it was said (pp. 492, 493):
... * *
In United States ex rel. Turner v. Williams, 194 U.S. 279 , 48 L. ed. 979, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 719, in the course of an opinion considering the act here involved, and holding it valid in so far as it provided for the exclusion of anarchists, it was said (pp. 289, 290):
The whole subject was again reviewed in United States v. Ju Toy, 198 U.S. 253 , 49 L. ed. 1040, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 644, where, in upholding the validity of the Chinese exclusion act, it was observed that the power of Congress to deal with the admission of aliens, and to confide the enforcement of such laws to administrative officers, was, in view of the previous cases, no longer open to discussion.
We come to consider the specific grounds which are relied [214 U.S. 320, 336] upon to remove the case from the control of these general principles.
1. It is insisted that, however complete may be the power of Congress to legislate concerning the exclusion of aliens, and to intrust the enforcement of legislation of that character to administrative officers, nevertheless the particular legislation here in question is repugnant to the Constitution because it defines a criminal offense, and authorizes a purely administrative official to determine whether the defined crime has been committed, and, if so, to inflict punishment. Conclusive support for the legal proposition upon which this contention must rest, it is insisted, results from the ruling in Wong Wing v. United States, 163 U.S. 228 , 41 L. ed. 140, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 977, where it was said (p. 237):
But, in so far as the case of Wong Wing held that the trial and punishment for an infamous offense was not an administrative, but a judicial, function, it is wholly inapposite to this case, since, on the face of the section which authorizes the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to impose the exaction which is complained of, it is apparent that it does not purport to define and punish an infamous crime, or indeed any criminal offense whatever. Clear as is this conclusion from the text of 9, when considered alone, it becomes, if possible, clearer when the section is enlightened by an analysis of the context of the act and by a consideration of the report of the Senate committee to which we have previously made reference. We say by an analysis of the context of the act, because, as we have previously stated, its various sections accurately distinguish between those cases where it was intended that particular violations of the act should be considered as criminal and be punished accordingly, and those where it was contemplated that violations should not constitute crime, but merely entail the infliction of a penalty, enforceable in some cases by purely administrative action and in others by civil suit. We say also by a consideration of the report of the Senate committee, since that report leaves no doubt that the sole purpose of 9 was to impose a penalty, based upon the medical examination for which the statute provided, thus tending, by the avoidance of controversy and delay, to secure the efficient performance by the steamship company of the duty to examine in the foreign country, before embarkation, and thereby aid in carrying out the policy of Congress to exclude from the United States aliens afflicted with loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases as defined in the act. The contention that because the exaction which the statute authorizes the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to impose is a penalty, [214 U.S. 320, 338] therefore its enforcement is necessarily governed by the rules controlling in the prosecution of criminal offenses, is clearly without merit, and is not open to discussion. Hepner v. United States, 213 U.S. 103 , 53 L. ed . --, 29 Sup. Ct. Rep. 474.
2. But it is argued that even though it be conceded that Congress may, in some cases, impose penalties for the violation of a statutory duty, and provide for their enforcement by civil suit instead of by criminal prosecution, as held in Hepner v. United States, nevertheless that doctrine does not warrant the conclusion that a penalty may be authorized, and its collection committed to an administrative officer without the necessity of resorting to the judicial power. In all cases of penalty or punishment, it is contended, enforcement must depend upon the exertion of judicial power, either by civil or criminal process, since the distinction between judicial and administrative functions cannot be preserved consistently with the recognition of an administrative power to enforce a penalty without resort to judicial authority. But the proposition magnifies the judicial to the detriment of all other departments of the government, disregards many previous adjudications of this court, and ignores practices often manifested and hitherto deemed to be free from any possible constitutional question.
Referring in Bartlett v. Kane, 16 How. 263, 14 L. ed. 931, to the authority of Congress to confide to administrative officers the enforcement of tariff legislation, it was said (p. 272):
And in the same case, in considering the nature and character of a penalty of 10 per cent which the tariff act of 1842 (5 Stat. at L. 563, chap. 270) authorized administrative officers to impose in cases of undervaluation, it was said (p. 274):
See also Den ex dem. Murray v. Hoboken Land & Improv. Co. 18 How. 272, 15 L. ed. 372.
In Passavant v. United States, 148 U.S. 214 , 37 L. ed. 426, 13 Sup. Ct. Rep. 572, the authority of Congress to delegate to administrative officers final and conclusive authority as to the valuation of imported merchandise, accompanied with the power to impose a penalty for undervaluation, was reiterated, and the doctrine of Bartlett v. Kane was applied. And the same principle was upheld in Origet v. Hedden, 155 U.S. 228 , 39 L. ed. 130, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 92.
In accord with this settled judicial construction the legislation of Congress from the beginning, not only as to tariff, but as to internal revenue, taxation, and other subjects, has proceeded on the conception that it was within the competency of Congress, when legislating as to matters exclusively within its control, to impose appropriate obligations, and sanction their enforcement by reasonable money penalties, giving to executive officers the power to enforce such penalties without the necessity of invoking the judicial power.
It is insisted that the decisions just stated and the legislative practices referred to are inapposite here, because they all relate to subjects peculiarly within the authority of the legislative department of the government, and which, from the necessity of things, required the concession that administrative officers should have the authority to enforce designated penalties without resort to the courts. But over no conceivable subject is the legislative power of Congress more complete than it is over that with which the act we are now considering deals. If the proposition implies that the right of Congress to enact legislation is to be determined, not by the grant of power made [214 U.S. 320, 340] by the Constitution, but by considering the particular emergency which has caused Congress to exert a specified power, then the proposition is obviously without foundation. This is apparent, since the contention then would proceed upon the assumption that it is within the competency of judicial authority to control legislative action as to subjects over which there is complete legislative authority, on the theory that there was no necessity calling for the exertion of legislative power. As the authority of Congress over the right to bring aliens into the United States embraces every conceivable aspect of that subject, it must follow that, if Congress has deemed it necessary to impose particular restrictions on the coming in of aliens, and to sanction such prohibitions by penalties enforceable by administrative authority, it follows that the constitutional right of Congress to enact such legislation is the sole measure by which its validity is to be determined by the courts. The suggestion that, if this view be applied, grave abuses may arise from the mistaken or wrongful exertion by the legislative department of its authority, but intimates that, if the legislative power be permitted its full sway within its constitutional sphere, harm and wrong will follow, and therefore it behooves the judiciary to apply a corrective by exceeding its own authority But, as pointed out in the passage previously quoted from Bartlett v. Kane, supra, and as often since emphasized by this court ( McCray v. United States, 195 U.S. 27 , 49 L. ed. 78, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 769, 1 A. & E. Ann. Cas. 561), the proposition but mistakenly assumes that the courts can alone be safely intrusted with power, and that hence it is their duty to unlawfully exercise prerogatives which they have no right to exert, upon the assumption that wrong must be done to prevent wrong being accomplished.
3. It is urged that the fines which constituted the exactions were repugnant to the 5th Amendment, because amounting to a taking of property without due process of law, since, as asserted, the fines were imposed, in some cases, without any previous notice, and in all cases without any adequate notice or opportunity to defend. Stated in the briefest form, the [214 U.S. 320, 341] findings below show that on the arrival of a vessel, if the examining medical officers discovered that an immigrant was afflicted with one of the prohibited diseases, the owner of the vessel was notified of the fact, and, indeed, that the steamship company had at the place where the examination was made what is known as a landing agent, whose business it was to keep informed as to the result of medical examinations, and to know when an immigrant was detained by the medical officers because afflicted with a prohibited disease. The findings also established that, where a fine was imposed under 9 by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, it was only done after the transmission to that official of the certificate of the examining medical officer that a particular alien immigrant had been found to be afflicted with one of the prohibited diseases, and that the state of the disease established in the opinion of the madical officer that it existed at the time of embarkation, and could then have been detected by a competent medical examination. Prior to a certain date the action of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, imposing a fine, was notified to the steamship company, and demand of payment was practically at once made. After a certain date, by what is known as circular No. 58, the same process was followed as to the imposition of the fine, but a period of time-fourteen days-was allowed to intervene between the notice given of the imposition of the fine and its final and compulsory exaction. As to the action of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor be fore the promulgation of circular No. 58, the court below found that no adequate opportunity was afforded the vessel or its owner to be heard, and, as to the notice given after the promulgation of circular No. 58, it was found that the fourteen days allowed by that circular, and the practice under it, 'did not afford the plaintiff a reasonable opportunity to obtain evidence from the port of embarkation and to be heard upon the question whether a fine should be imposed.' Much contention is made in argument concerning these findings, it being insisted that there is conflict between them, and different views are taken as to [214 U.S. 320, 342] which of the findings should, under the circumstances of the case, be treated as dominant. But into that controversy we do not think it necessary to enter, since, as previously pointed out, it is evident that the statute unambiguously excludes the conception that the steamship company was entitled to be heard, in the sense of raising an issue and tendering evidence concerning the condition of the alien immigrant upon arrival at the point of disembarkation, as the plain purpose of the statute was to exclusively commit that subject to the medical officers for which the statute provided. We shall, therefore, test the soundness of the proposition we are considering upon that assumption.
In view of the absolute power of Congress over the right to bring aliens into the United States we think it may not be doubted that the act would be beyond all question constitutional if it forbade the introduction of aliens afflicted with contagious diseases, and, as a condition to the right to bring in aliens, imposed upon every vessel bringing them in, as a condition of the right to do so, a penalty for every alien brought to the United States afflicted with the prohibited disease, wholly without reference to when and where the disease originated. It must then follow that the provision contained in the statute is of course valid, since it only subjects the vessel to the exaction when, as the result of the medical examination for which the statute provides, it appears that the alien immigrant afflicted with the prohibited malady is in such a stage of the disease that it must, in the opinion of the medical officer, have existed and been susceptible of discovery at the point of embarkation. Indeed, it is not denied that there was full power in Congress to provide for the examination of the alien by medical officers, and to attach conclusive effect to the result of that examination for the purposes of exclusion or deportation. But it is said the power to do so does not include the right to make the medical examination conclusive for the purpose of imposing a penalty upon the vessel for the negligent bringing in of an alien. We think the argument rests [214 U.S. 320, 343] upon a distinction without a difference. It disregards the purpose which, as we have already pointed out, congress had in view in the enactment of the provision; that is, the guarding against the danger to arise from the wrongful taking on board of an alien afflicted with a contagious malady, not only to other immigrant passengers, but ultimately, it might be, to the entire people of the United States,-a danger arising from the possible admission of aliens who might contract the contagion during the voyage, and yet be entitled to admission because apparently not afflicted with the prohibited disease, owing to the fact that the time had not elapsed for the manifestation of its presence. In effect, all the contentions pressed in argument concerning the repugnancy of the statute to the due process clause really disregarded the complete and absolute power of Congress over the subject with which the statute deals. They mistakenly assume that mere form, and not substance, may be made by the courts the conclusive test as to the constitutional power of Congress to enact a statute. These conclusions are apparent, we think, since the plenary power of Congress as to the admission of aliens leaves no room for doubt as to its authority to impose the penalty, and its complete administrative control over the granting or refusal of a clearance also leaves no doubt of the right to endow administrative officers with discretion to refuse to perform the administrative act of granting a clearance, as a means of enforcing the penalty which there was lawful authority to impose.
There are many other propositions urged in argument which we do not deem it necessary to specifically notice, as in effect they are all disposed of by the considerations which we have stated.
We have not considered the questions which would arise for decision if the case presented an attempt to endow administrative officers with the power to enforce a lawful exaction by methods which were not within the competency of administrative duties, because they required the exercise of judicial authority.
Was this helpful?
Thank you. Your response has been sent.
A free source of state and federal court opinions, state laws, and the United States Code. For more information about the legal concepts addressed by these cases and statutes visit FindLaw's Learn About the Law.
Citation: 214 U.S. 320
Docket No: No. 509
Decided: June 01, 1909
Court: United States Supreme Court
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)
FindLaw for Legal Professionals
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)