Details From American Jurisprudence on Unconstitutional Laws

Thursday, Feb 14, 2013

In my recent (and now notorious) Burn Barrel essay on civil disobedience, I made reference to a legal summary in the 2d edition of American Jurisprudence. But at the time I didn't have access to the important case citation footnotes. SurvivalBlog reader and legal scholar S.G. very kindly sent me an extract with full case cite footnotes, from American Jurisprudence 2d. This was from Volume 16 (Conflict of Laws to Constitutional Law 1-359). This came from the latest edition, so it cites cases as recent at 2009. Here it is:

§ 195 Generally

The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, whether federal or state, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law(1) but is wholly void(2) and ineffective for any purpose.(3) Since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it,(4) an unconstitutional law, in legal contemplation, is as inoperative as if it had never been passed(5) and never existed;(6) that is, it is void ab initio.(7) Such a statute leaves the question that it purports to settle just as it would be had the statute not been enacted.(8)
 
Since an unconstitutional law is void, it follows that generally the statute imposes no duties,(9) confers no rights,(10) creates no office(11) or liabilities,(12) bestows no power or authority on anyone,(13) affords no protection,(14) is incapable of creating any rights or obligations,(15) does not allow for the granting of any relief,(16) and justifies no acts performed under it.(17)
 
Once a statute is determined to be unconstitutional, no private citizen or division of the state may take any further action pursuant to its provisions.(18) A contract that rests on an unconstitutional statute creates no obligation to be impaired by subsequent legislation.(19) No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law,(20) and no courts are bound to enforce it.(21) A law contrary to the United States Constitution may not be enforced.(22) Once a statute has been declared unconstitutional, courts thereafter have no jurisdiction over alleged violations.(23) Persons convicted and fined under a statute subsequently held unconstitutional may recover the fines paid.(24)

FOOTNOTES:

1 Commissioners of Roads and Revenues of Fulton County v. Davis, 213 Ga. 792, 102 S.E.2d 180 (1958); State v. Village of Garden City, 74 Idaho 513, 265 P.2d 328 (1953); McGuire v. C & L Restaurant Inc., 346 N.W.2d 605 (Minn. 1984); People v. Corley, 91 Misc. 2d 255, 397 N.Y.S.2d 875 (City Crim. Ct. 1977).

2 Lewis v. Uselton, 224 Ga. App. 428, 480 S.E.2d 856 (1997); State ex rel. Stenberg v. Murphy, 247 Neb. 358, 527 N.W.2d 185 (1995); State v. Clark, 367 N.W.2d 168 (N.D. 1985); St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Getty Oil Co., 1989 OK 139, 782 P.2d 915 (Okla. 1989); Weegar v. Bakeberg, 527 N.W.2d 676 (S.D. 1995); Almond v. Day, 197 Va. 419, 89 S.E.2d 851 (1955).

3State v. One Oldsmobile Two-Door Sedan, Model 1946, 227 Minn. 280, 35 N.W.2d 525 (1948); Grieb v. Department of Liquor Control of State, 153 Ohio St. 77, 41 Ohio Op. 148, 90 N.E.2d 691 (1950); Hunter v. School Dist. of Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau, 97 Wis. 2d 435, 293 N.W.2d 515 (1980).

4 Shirley v. Getty Oil Co., 367 So. 2d 1388 (Ala. 1979); Oliver v. State, 619 So. 2d 384 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 1993); Lewis v. Uselton, 224 Ga. App. 428, 480 S.E.2d 856 (1997); Trout v. State, 231 S.W.3d 140 (Mo. 2007); State ex rel. Stenberg v. Murphy, 247 Neb. 358, 527 N.W.2d 185 (1995); Texas Dept. of Family and Protective Services v. Dickensheets, 274 S.W.3d 150 (Tex. App. Houston 1st Dist. 2008).

5 Huffman v. Dawkins, 273 Ark. 520, 622 S.W.2d 159 (1981); Commissioners of Roads and Revenues of Fulton County v. Davis, 213 Ga. 792, 102 S.E.2d 180 (1958); Briggs v. Campbell, Wyant & Cannon Foundry Co., Division Textron Am. Inc., 2 Mich. App. 204, 139 N.W.2d 336 (1966), judgment aff'd, 379 Mich. 160, 150 N.W.2d 752 (1967); McGuire v. C & L Restaurant Inc., 346 N.W.2d 605 (Minn. 1984); State ex rel. Stenberg v. Murphy, 247 Neb. 358, 527 N.W.2d 185 (1995); State v. Clark, 367 N.W.2d 168 (N.D. 1985); St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Getty Oil Co., 1989 OK 139, 782 P.2d 915 (Okla. 1989); Glen-Gery Corp. v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of Dover Tp., 589 Pa. 135, 907 A.2d 1033 (2006); Franks v. State, 772 S.W.2d 428 (Tenn. 1989); School Districts' Alliance for Adequate Funding of Special Educ. v. State, 149 Wash. App. 241, 202 P.3d 990, 242 Ed. Law Rep. 383 (Div. 2 2009); City of Fairmont v. Pitrolo Pontiac-Cadillac Co., 172 W. Va. 505, 308 S.E.2d 527 (1983).

6 Thomas v. North Carolina Dept. of Human Resources, 124 N.C. App. 698, 478 S.E.2d 816 (1996), aff'd, 346 N.C. 268, 485 S.E.2d 295 (1997); Weegar v. Bakeberg, 527 N.W.2d 676 (S.D. 1995).

7 People v. Manuel, 94 Ill. 2d 242, 68 Ill. Dec. 506, 446 N.E.2d 240 (1983); Lovgren v. Peoples Elec. Co., Inc., 380 N.W.2d 791 (Minn. 1986); Nevada Power Co. v. Metropolitan Development Co., 104 Nev. 684, 765 P.2d 1162 (1988); Town of Islip v. Paliotti, 196 A.D.2d 648, 601 N.Y.S.2d 926 (2d Dep't 1993); American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ingram, 301 N.C. 138, 271 S.E.2d 46 (1980).

8 Commissioners of Roads and Revenues of Fulton County v. Davis, 213 Ga. 792, 102 S.E.2d 180 (1958).

9 Flournoy v. First Nat. Bank of Shreveport, 197 La. 1067, 3 So. 2d 244 (1941); State ex rel. Stenberg v. Murphy, 247 Neb. 358, 527 N.W.2d 185 (1995); Franks v. State, 772 S.W.2d 428 (Tenn. 1989).

10 People v. Harvey, 379 Ill. App. 3d 518, 318 Ill. Dec. 756, 884 N.E.2d 724 (1st Dist. 2008); State ex rel. Stenberg v. Murphy, 247 Neb. 358, 527 N.W.2d 185 (1995); Nevada Power Co. v. Metropolitan Development Co., 104 Nev. 684, 765 P.2d 1162 (1988); Ethics Com'n of State of Okl. v. Cullison, 1993 OK 37, 850 P.2d 1069 (Okla. 1993); General Motors Corp. v. Oklahoma County Bd. of Equalization, 1983 OK 59, 678 P.2d 233 (Okla. 1983); Franks v. State, 772 S.W.2d 428 (Tenn. 1989); Geeslin v. State Farm Lloyds, 255 S.W.3d 786 (Tex. App. Austin 2008).
 
As to the effect of and rights under a judgment based upon an unconstitutional law, see Am. Jur. 2d, Judgments § 17.
 
As to the res judicata effect of a judgment based upon an unconstitutional law, see Am. Jur. 2d, Judgments § 752.

11 Flournoy v. First Nat. Bank of Shreveport, 197 La. 1067, 3 So. 2d 244 (1941); Franks v. State, 772 S.W.2d 428 (Tenn. 1989).

12 Liddell v. Heavner, 2008 OK 6, 180 P.3d 1191 (Okla. 2008).

13 Flournoy v. First Nat. Bank of Shreveport, 197 La. 1067, 3 So. 2d 244 (1941).

14 Nevada Power Co. v. Metropolitan Development Co., 104 Nev. 684, 765 P.2d 1162 (1988); Ethics Com'n of State of Okl. v. Cullison, 1993 OK 37, 850 P.2d 1069 (Okla. 1993); Franks v. State, 772 S.W.2d 428 (Tenn. 1989).
 
As to the limitations to which this rule is subject, see § 196.

15 State ex rel. Stenberg v. Murphy, 247 Neb. 358, 527 N.W.2d 185 (1995).

16 Helvey v. Dawson County Bd. of Equalization, 242 Neb. 379, 495 N.W.2d 261 (1993) (a court may not grant any relief based upon a statute which is nonexistent or a statute which has become nonexistent by reason of a judicial declaration of unconstitutionality).

17 Millet v. Rizzo, 2 So. 2d 244 (La. Ct. App. 1st Cir. 1941); Board of Managers of James Walker Memorial Hospital of Wilmington v. City of Wilmington, 237 N.C. 179, 74 S.E.2d 749 (1953); State ex rel. Tharel v. Board of Com'rs of Creek County, 1940 OK 468, 188 Okla. 184, 107 P.2d 542 (1940).
 
As to the effect of a declaration of unconstitutionality on acts performed under it, generally, see § 196.

18 Thomas v. North Carolina Dept. of Human Resources, 124 N.C. App. 698, 478 S.E.2d 816 (1996), aff'd, 346 N.C. 268, 485 S.E.2d 295 (1997).

19 Jones v. Columbian Carbon Co., 132 W. Va. 219, 51 S.E.2d 790 (1948).

20 Flournoy v. First Nat. Bank of Shreveport, 197 La. 1067, 3 So. 2d 244 (1941); Amyot v. Caron, 88 N.H. 394, 190 A. 134 (1937).

21 Chicago, I. & L.R. Co. v. Hackett, 228 U.S. 559, 33 S. Ct. 581, 57 L. Ed. 966 (1913); Payne v. Griffin, 51 F. Supp. 588 (M.D. Ga. 1943); Flournoy v. First Nat. Bank of Shreveport, 197 La. 1067, 3 So. 2d 244 (1941).

22 Painter v. Shalala, 97 F.3d 1351 (10th Cir. 1996); Bartlett v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 695 (D.C. Cir. 1987), opinion reinstated on reconsideration, 824 F.2d 1240 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

23 U.S. v. Baucum, 80 F.3d 539 (D.C. Cir. 1996).

24 Neely v. U.S., 546 F.2d 1059, 41 A.L.R. Fed. 331 (3d Cir. 1976).

In Closing: For readers with an interest in legal research, I must mention this proviso: Summary references such as American Jurisprudence (Am Jur) and Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS) are secondary sources that are overviews of the body of law and as such are merely jumping off places for further research. From these, you have to then dig into the citations to truly find authority. This takes either access to a law library (yes, there are law libraries that are open to the public), or a LEXIS/NEXIS account, which is expensive.

Read the book Legal Research (by Elias) first, or you will be just flailing around, wasting valuable time.

Good luck with your research, and I pray that all your visits to court be with you in control of the situation, sitting before a fully informed jury, and with all the requisite authoritative facts at your fingertips.

Special thanks once again to SurvivalBlog reader S.G. for sending me those cites, pro bono publico.


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