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Knickerbnocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.S. 149 (1920)

Knickerbnocker Ice Company v. Stewart

No. 543

Argued December 16, 1919

Decided May 17, 1920

253 U.S. 149


The Constitution, Art. III, § 2, Art. I, § 8, itself adopted and established, as part of the laws of the United States, approved rules of the general maritime law, and empowered Congress to legislate in respect of them and other matters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. P. 253 U. S. 160.

It took from the states all power, by legislation or judicial decision, to contravene the essential purposes of, or work material injury to, characteristic features of that law, or to interfere with its proper harmony and uniformity in its international and interstate relations. Id.

To preserve adequate harmony and appropriate uniform rules relating to maritime matters and bring them within the control of the federal government was the fundamental purpose, and, to such definite end, Congress was empowered to legislate within that sphere. Id.

There is a distinction between the situation created by the Constitution relative to maritime affairs and the one resulting from the mere grant of power to regulate commerce, without more. P. 253 U. S. 161.

That clause of the provision granting otherwise exclusive admiralty and maritime jurisdiction to the federal courts (Judiciary Act, 1789, § 9; Jud.Code, §§ 24, 256) which saves to suitors "in all cases, the right of a common law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it" refers to remedies for enforcement of the federal maritime law, and does not create substantive rights or assent to their creation by the states. Pp. 253 U. S. 159, 253 U. S. 161.

The usual function of a saving clause is to preserve something from immediate interference, not to create. P. 253 U. S. 162.

The legislature does not alter the law by expressing an erroneous opinion of it. Id.

Read with the explanatory report in the Senate and with the light of attendant circumstances, the Act of October 6, 1917, c. 97, 40 Stat. 395, which purports to amend Jud.Code, §§ 24 and 256, by adding to the saving clause "and to claimants the rights and remedies under the workmen's compensation law of any state" is to be construed

Page 253 U. S. 150

as intending to obviate the objection pointed out in Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U. S. 205, and as seeking to authorize and sanction action by the state in prescribing and enforcing, as to all parties concerned rights, liabilities, and remedies designed to provide compensation for injuries suffered by employees engaged in maritime work. Pp. 253 U. S. 161 et seq. The attempted amendment is unconstitutional as being a delegation of the legislative power of Congress and as defeating the purpose of the Constitution respecting the harmony and uniformity of the maritime law. P. 253 U. S. 164. The Hamilton, 207 U. S. 398, distinguished. P. 253 U. S. 166.

226 N.Y. 302 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 253 U. S. 155

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