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U.S. Supreme Court

Virginia v. West Virginia, 220 U.S. 1 (1911)

Virginia v. West Virginia

No. 3, Original

Argued January 20, 23-26, 1911

Decided March 6, 1911

220 U.S. 1


A suit brought by one state against another, formed by its consent from its territory, to determine what proportion the latter should pay of indebtedness of the former at the time of separation, is a quasi-international controversy and should be considered in an untechnical spirit. In such a controversy, there is no municipal code governing the matter, and this Court may be called on to adjust differences that cannot be dealt with by Congress or disposed of by the legislature of either state alone.

A state is superior to the forms that it may require of its citizens, and where a part of a state separates and is created into a new state, a contract can be created by the constitutive ordinance of the parent state followed by the creation of the contemplated state.

A provision of the constitution of a new state which is not addressed solely to those who are to be subject to its provisions, but is intended to be understood by the parent state and by Congress as embodying a just term which conditions the parent's consent amounts to a contract.

In this case, the ordinance of Virginia, the Constitution of West Virginia, and the act of Congress admitting West Virginia into the Union, when taken together, establish a contract that West Virginia will pay her share of the debt of Virginia existing at the time of separation.

Page 220 U. S. 2

Where all expenditures for which the debt of a state is created have the ultimate good of the whole state in view, the whole state, and not the particular locality in which the improvements are made, should equally bear the burden, and so held in apportioning the debt of Virginia between that state and West Virginia, that the latter should bear its share of the debt so created.

Provisions in the constitution of one state which is a party to a contract with another state cannot be taken as the sole guide to determine obligations under the contract.

What is just and equitable under a contract between states is a judicial question within the competence of this tribunal to decide.

A state may, by suit in this Court, enforce against another state a contract in the performance of which the honor and credit of the plaintiff state is concerned. New Hampshire v. Louisiana, 108 U. S. 76, distinguished.

The liability assumed by West Virginia to bear a fair proportion of the debt of Virginia is a deep-seated equity not discharged by the fact that the creditors of Virginia may have released that state from the obligation of the portion to be assumed by West Virginia as ultimately determined, and Virginia may maintain a suit in this Court to determine the liability of West Virginia even if the proceeds are to be applied to those holding certificates on which Virginia is no longer liable.

In apportioning the debt of Virginia between that state and West Virginia, the Court rejects other methods proposed and adopts the ratio determined by the master's estimated valuation of real and personal property of the two states at the date of separation.

The value of slaves is properly excluded from such valuation.

There are many elements to be considered in determining the liability for interest by a newly created state on its share of the debt of the parent state, and this Court will, before passing on that question in a suit of this nature, afford the parties an opportunity to adjust it between themselves.

A suit between states to apportion debt is a quasi-international controversy involving the honor and constitutional obligation of great states, which have a temper superior to that of private litigants, and, when this Court has decided enough, patriotism, fraternity of the Union and mutual consideration should bring the controversy to an end.

The facts, which involve the adjustment between Virginia and West Virginia of the debt of Virginia at the time

Page 220 U. S. 3

of the formation of the West Virginia, are stated in the opinion.

Page 220 U. S. 22

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