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U.S. Supreme Court

El Paso & Northeastern Ry. Co. v. Gutierrez, 215 U.S. 87 (1909)

El Paso & Northeastern Railway Company v. Gutierrez

No. 505

Submitted October 11, 1909

Decided November 15, 1909

215 U.S. 87


Where the effect of the judgment of the state court is to deny the defense that a statute of a territory is a bar to the action, a claim of federal right is denied and this Court has jurisdiction under § 709, Rev.Stats., to review the judgment. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. v. Sowers, 213 U. S. 55.

The power of Congress to regulate commerce in the District of Columbia and territories is plenary, and does not depend on the commerce

Page 215 U. S. 88

clause, and a statute regulating such commerce necessarily supersedes a territorial statute on the same subject.

An act of Congress may be unconstitutional as measured by the commerce clause, and constitutional as measured by the power to govern the District of Columbia and the territories, and the test of separability is whether Congress would have enacted the legislation exclusively for the District and the territories.

The rule that the court must sustain an act of Congress as constitutional unless there is no doubt as to its unconstitutionality also requires the court to sustain the act insofar as it is possible to sustain it.

This Court did not, in its decision of the Employers' Liability Cases, 207 U. S. 463, hold the Act of June 11, 1906, c. 3073, 34 Stat. 232, unconstitutional so far as it related to the District of Columbia and the territories, and expressly refused to interpret the act as applying only to such employees of carriers in the district and territories as were engaged in interstate commerce.

The evident intent of Congress in enacting the Employers' Liability Act of June 11, 1906, was to enact the curative provisions of the law as applicable to the District of Columbia and the territories under its plenary power irrespective of the interstate commerce feature of the act, and although unconstitutional as to the latter, as held in 207 U. S. 207 U.S. 463, it is constitutional and paramount as to commerce wholly in the district and territories.

The Employers' Liability Act of June 11, 106, being a constitutional regulation of commerce in the District of Columbia and the territories, necessarily supersedes prior territorial legislation on the same subject, and noncompliance by the plaintiff employee with a provision of a territorial statute (in this case, of New Mexico) cannot be pleaded by the defendant employer as a bar to an action for personal injuries.

117 S.W. 426 aff'd, and Hyde v. Southern Ry. Co., 31 App.D.C.


The facts, which involve the constitutionality of the Employers' Liability Law of June 11, 1906, c. 3073, 34 Stat. 23, as applied to the territories of the United States, are stated in the opinion.

Page 215 U. S. 90

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