SMITH V. INDIANA, 191 U. S. 138 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Smith v. Indiana, 191 U.S. 138 (1903)

Smith v. Indiana

No. 81

Argued October 22-23, 1903

Decided November 16, 1903

191 U.S. 138


The extent of the power of a public officer to question the constitutionality of a state statute as an excuse for refusing to enforce it is purely a local question. Huntington v. Worthen, 120 U. S. 101.

The jurisdiction of this Court can only be invoked by a party having a personal interest in the litigation.

Where a public officer of a state who has no interest in the controversy except as such officer tests the constitutionality of a state statute purely in the interests of third parties by a suit in the state courts, and a judgment has been rendered against him by the highest court of the state, a writ of error from this Court to revise such judgment will not lie.

The fact that costs were rendered against him personally in the state court will not give this Court jurisdiction in such case.

This was a petition filed in the Circuit Court of Marion County by the state, upon the relation of Martha and Benjamin Lewis, against the Auditor of Marion County for a writ of mandamus to compel the defendant, in his official capacity, to allow an exemption of a mortgage of $500 upon a lot of land in Indianapolis owned by the relators, and that the same be deducted from the value of such lot.

The petition was based upon an act passed by the General Assembly March 4, 1899, the first section of which declares:

"That any person being the owner of real estate liable for taxation within the State of Indiana, and being indebted in any sum, secured by mortgage upon real estate, may have the amount of such mortgage indebtedness, not exceeding seven hundred dollars, existing and unpaid upon the first day of

Page 191 U. S. 139

April of any year, deducted from the assessed valuation of mortgage premises for that year, and the amount of such valuation remaining after such deduction shall have been made shall form the basis for assessment and taxation for said real estate for said year."

An alternative writ having been issued, defendant interposed a general demurrer, which was sustained by the court, and, the relators declining to plead further, judgment was entered against them.

Upon appeal to the supreme court, the action of the court below was reversed, the law held to be constitutional, and the cause remanded. 158 Ind. 543. Thereupon the defendant made formal return to the writ, alleging the unconstitutionality of the act both under the state and federal Constitutions, to which relators demurred. The demurrer was sustained, and a judgment entered for a peremptory mandamus commanding the defendant to allow the exemption and to deduct from the assessed valuation of the real estate the amount of the mortgage, $500, and also that relators recover from the defendant their costs, which, however, appear never to have been taxed. This judgment was subsequently affirmed by the supreme court upon the authority of its opinion upon the previous appeal, and a writ of error sued out from this Court.

Page 191 U. S. 148

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