USA > US Constitution > Definitions


"Person". — The due process clause provides that no States shall deprive any "person" of "life, liberty or property" without due process of law. A historical controversy has been waged concerning whether the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment intended the word "person" to mean only natural persons, or whether the word was substituted for the word "citizen" with a view to protecting corporations from oppressive state legislation.39 As early as the 1877 Granger Cases40 the Supreme Court upheld various regulatory state laws without raising any question as to whether a corporation could advance due process claims. Further, there is no doubt that a corporation may not be deprived of its property without due process of law.41 While various decisions have held that the "liberty" guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment is the liberty of natural,42 not artificial, persons,43 nevertheless, in 1936, a newspaper corporation successfully objected that a state law deprived it of liberty of the press.44chanrobles-red

39 See Graham, The 'Conspiracy Theory' of the Fourteenth Amendment, 47 YALE L. J. 371 (1938).

40 Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1877). In a case arising under the Fifth Amendment, decided almost at the same time, the Court explicitly declared the United States "equally with the States . . . are prohibited from depriving persons or corporations of property without due process of law." Sinking Fund Cases, 99 U.S. 700, 718-19 (1879).

41 Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 466, 522, 526 (1898); Kentucky Co. v. Paramount Exch., 262 U.S. 544, 550 (1923); Liggett Co. v. Baldridge, 278 U.S. 105 (1928).

42 As to the natural persons protected by the due process clause, these include all human beings regardless of race, color, or citizenship. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886); Terrace v. Thompson, 263 U.S. 197, 216 (1923). See Hellenic Lines v. Rhodetis, 398 U.S. 306, 309 (1970).

43 Northwestern Life Ins. Co. v. Riggs, 203 U.S. 243, 255 (1906); Western Turf Ass'n v. Greenberg, 204 U.S. 359, 363 (1907); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925). Earlier, in Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197, 362 (1904), a case interpreting the federal antitrust law, Justice Brewer, in a concurring opinion, had declared that "a corporation . . . is not endowed with the inalienable rights of a natural person."

44 Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 244 (1936) ("a corporation is a 'person' within the meaning of the equal protection and due process of law clauses"). In First Nat'l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978), faced with the validity of state restraints upon expression by corporations, the Court did not determine that corporations have First Amendment liberty rights—and other constitutional rights—but decided instead that expression was protected, irrespective of the speaker, because of the interests of the listeners. See id. at 778 n.14 (reserving question). But see id. at 809, 822 (Justices White and Rehnquist dissenting) (corporations as creatures of the state have the rights state gives them).

A separate question is the ability of a government official to invoke the due process clause to protect the interests of his office. Ordinarily, the mere official interest of a public officer, such as the interest in enforcing a law, has not been deemed adequate to enable him to challenge the constitutionality of a law under the Fourteenth Amendment.45 Similarly, municipal corporations have no standing "to invoke the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment in opposition to the will of their creator," the State.46 However, state officers are acknowledged to have an interest, despite their not having sustained any "private damage," in resisting an "endeavor to prevent the enforcement of laws in relation to which they have official duties," and, accordingly, may apply to federal courts for the "review of decisions of state courts declaring state statutes which [they] seek to enforce to be repugnant to the" Fourteenth Amendment.47chanrobles-red

45 Pennie v. Reis, 132 U.S. 464 (1889); Taylor and Marshall v. Beckham (No. 1), 178 U.S. 548 (1900); Tyler v. Judges of Court of Registration, 179 U.S. 405, 410 (1900); Straus v. Foxworth, 231 U.S. 162 (1913); Columbus & G. Ry. v. Miller, 283 U.S. 96 (1931).

46 City of Pawhuska v. Pawhuska Oil Co., 250 U.S. 394 (1919); City of Trenton v. New Jersey, 262 U.S. 182 (1923); Williams v. Mayor of Baltimore, 289 U.S. 36 (1933). But see Madison School Dist. v. WERC, 429 U.S. 167, 175 n. 7 (1976) (reserving question whether municipal corporation as an employer has a First Amendment right assertable against State).

47 Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433, 441, 442, 443, 445 (1939); Boynton v. Hutchinson Gas Co., 291 U.S. 656 (1934); South Carolina Hwy. Dept. v. Barnwell Bros.,

"Property" and Police Power. — States have an inherent "police power" to promote public safety, health, morals, public convenience, and general prosperity,48 but the extent of the power may vary based on the subject matter over which it is exercised.49 If a police power regulation goes too far, it will be recognized as a taking of property for which compensation must be paid.50 Thus, the means employed to affect its exercise can be neither arbitrary nor oppressive but must bear a real and substantial relation to an end which is public, specifically, the public health, safety, or morals, or some other aspect of the general welfare.51

An ulterior public advantage, however, may justify a comparatively insignificant taking of private property for what seems to be a private use.52 Mere "cost and inconvenience (different words, probably, for the same thing) would have to be very great before they could become an element in the consideration of the right of a state to exert its reserved power or its police power."53 Moreover, it is elementary that enforcement of a law passed in the legitimate exertion of the police power is not a taking without due process of law, even if the cost is borne by the regulated.54 Initial compliance with a regulation which is valid when adopted, however, does not preclude later protest if that regulation subsequently becomes confiscatory in its operation.55chanrobles-red

303 U.S. 177 (1938). The converse is not true, however, and the interest of a state official in vindicating the Constitution gives him no legal standing to attack the constitutionality of a state statute in order to avoid compliance with it. Smith v. Indiana, 191 U.S. 138 (1903); Braxton County Court v. West Virginia, 208 U.S. 192 (1908); Marshall v. Dye, 231 U.S. 250 (1913); Stewart v. Kansas City, 239 U.S. 14 (1915). See also Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433, 437-46 (1939).

48 This power is not confined to the suppression of what is offensive, disorderly, or unsanitary. Long ago Chief Justice Marshall described the police power as "that immense mass of legislation, which embraces every thing within the territory of a State, not surrendered to the general government." Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 202 (1824). See California Reduction Co. v. Sanitary Works, 199 U.S. 306, 318 (1905); Chicago B. & Q. Ry. v. Drainage Comm'rs, 200 U.S. 561, 592 (1906); Bacon v. Walker, 204 U.S. 311 (1907); Eubank v. Richmond, 226 U.S. 137 (1912); Schmidinger v. Chicago, 226 U.S. 578 (1913); Sligh v. Kirkwood, 237 U.S. 52, 58- 59 (1915); Nebbia v. New York, 291 U.S. 502 (1934); Nashville, C. & St. L. Ry. v. Walters, 294 U.S. 405 (1935). See also Penn Central Transp. Co. v. City of New York, 438 U.S. 104 (1978) (police power encompasses preservation of historic landmarks; land-use restrictions may be enacted to enhance the quality of life by preserving the character and aesthetic features of city); City of New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297 (1976); Young v. American Mini Theatres, 427 U.S. 50 (1976).

49 Hudson Water Co. v. McCarter, 209 U.S. 349 (1908); Eubank v. Richmond, 226 U.S. 137, 142 (1912); Erie R.R. v. Williams, 233 U.S. 685, 699 (1914); Sligh v. Kirkwood, 237 U.S. 52, 58-59 (1915); Hadacheck v. Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394 (1915); Hall v. Geiger-Jones Co., 242 U.S. 539 (1917); Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Co. v. Highway Comm'n, 294 U.S. 613, 622 (1935). "It is settled [however] that neither the 'contract' clause nor the 'due process' clause had the effect of overriding the power of the state to establish all regulations that are reasonably necessary to secure the health, safety, good order, comfort, or general welfare of the community; that this power can neither be abdicated nor bargained away, and is inalienable even by express grant; and that all contract and property [or other vested] rights are held subject to its fair exercise." Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Goldsboro, 232 U.S. 548, 558 (1914).

50 Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 U.S. 393 (1922); Welch v. Swasey, 214 U.S. 91, 107 (1909). See also Penn Central Transp. Co. v. City of New York, 438 U.S. 104 (1978); Agins v. City of Tiburon, 447 U.S. 255 (1980). See also analysis of "Regulatory Takings" under the Fifth Amendment. Although the Fourteenth Amendment does not contain a "takings" provisions such as is found in the Fifth Amendment, the Court has held that such provision has been incorporated. Webb's Fabulous Pharmacies, Inc. v. Beckwith, 449 U.S. 155, 159 (1980).

51 Liggett Co. v. Baldridge , 278 U.S. 105, 111-12 (1928); Treigle v. Acme Homestead Ass'n, 297 U.S. 189, 197 (1936).

52 Noble State Bank v. Haskell, 219 U.S. 104, 110 (1911) (bank may be required to contribute to fund to guarantee the deposits of contributing banks).

53 Erie R.R. v. Williams, 233 U.S. 685, 700 (1914).

54 New Orleans Public Service v. New Orleans, 281 U.S. 682, 687 (1930).

55 Abie State Bank v. Bryan, 282 U.S. 765, 776 (1931).

"Liberty". — As will be discussed in detail below, the "liberty" guaranteed by the due process clause has been variously defined by the Court. In the early years, it meant almost exclusively "liberty of contract," but with the demise of liberty of contract came a general broadening of "liberty" to include personal, political and social rights and privileges.56 Nonetheless, the Court is generally chary of expanding the concept absent statutorily recognized rights.57chanrobles-red

56 See the tentative effort in Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong, 426 U.S. 88, 102 & n. 23 (1976), apparently to expand upon the concept of "liberty" within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment's due process clause and necessarily therefore the Fourteenth's.

57 See the substantial confinement of the concept in Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215 (1976); and Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236 (1976), in which the Court applied to its determination of what is a liberty interest the "entitlement" doctrine developed in property cases, in which the interest is made to depend upon state recognition of the interest through positive law, an approach contrary to previous due process-liberty analysis. Cf. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 482 (1972). For more recent cases, see DeShaney v. Winnebago County Social Servs. Dep't, 489 U.S. 189 (1989) (no Due Process violation for failure of state to protect an abused child from his parent, even though abuse had been detected by social service agency); Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115 (1992) (failure of city to warn its employees about workplace hazards does not violate due process; the due process clause does not impose a duty on the city to provide employees with a safe working environment); County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998) (high-speed automobile chase by police officer causing death through deliberate or reckless indifference to life would not violate the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of substantive due process). But see Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003) (case remanded to federal circuit court to determine whether coercive questioning of severely injured suspect gave rise to a compensable violation of due process).

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