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Henderson v. Mayor of City of New York, 92 U.S. 259 (1875)

Henderson v. Mayor of City of New York

92 U.S. 259


1. The case of the City of New York v. Miln, 11 Pet. 103, decided no more than that the requirement from the master of a vessel of a catalogue of his passengers landed in the city, rendered to the mayor on oath, with a correct description of their names, ages, occupations, places of birth, and of last legal settlement, was a police regulation within the power of the state to enact, and not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States.

2. The result of the Passenger Cases, 7 How. 283, was to hold that a tax demanded of the master or owner of the vessel for every such passenger was a regulation of commerce by the state in conflict with the Constitution and laws of the United States, and therefore void.

3. These cases criticized, and the weight due to them as authority considered.

4. In whatever language a statute may be framed, its purpose and its constitutional validity must be determined by its natural and reasonable effect.

5. Hence, a statute which imposes a burdensome and almost impossible condition on the shipmaster as a prerequisite to his landing his passengers, with

Page 92 U. S. 260

an alternative payment of a small sum of money for each one of them, is a tax on the shipowner for the right to land such passengers, and, in effect, on the passenger himself, since the shipmaster makes him pay it in advance as part of his fare.

6. Such a statute of a state is a regulation of commerce, and, when applied to passengers from foreign countries, is a regulation of commerce with foreign nations.

7. It is no answer to the charge that such regulation of commerce by a state is forbidden by the Constitution to say that it falls within the police power of the states, for to whatever class of legislative powers it may belong,

it is prohibited to the states if granted exclusively to Congress by that instrument.

8. Though it be conceded that there is a class of legislation which may affect commerce, both with foreign nations and between the states, in regard to which the laws of the states may be valid in the absence of action under the authority of Congress on the same subjects, this can have no reference to matters which are in their nature national or which admit of a uniform system or plan of regulation.

9. The statutes of New York and Louisiana here under consideration are intended to regulate commercial matters which are not only of national but of international concern, and which are also best regulated by one uniform rule applicable alike to all the seaports of the United States. These statutes are therefore void because legislation on the subjects which they cover is confided exclusively to Congress by the clause of the Constitution which gives to that body the "right to regulate commerce with foreign nations."

10. The constitutional objection to this tax on the passenger is not removed because the penalty for failure to pay does not accrue until twenty-four hours after he is landed. The penalty is incurred by the act of landing him without payment, and is, in fact, for the act of bringing him into the state.

11. This Court does not in this case undertake to decide whether or not a state may, in the absence of all legislation by Congress on the same subject, pass a statute strictly limited to defending itself against paupers, convicted criminals, and others of that class, but is of opinion that to Congress rightfully and appropriately belongs the power of legislating on the whole subject.

These cases come here by appeal -- the former from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, the latter from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Louisiana.

In the case from New York, which is a suit in equity against the Mayor of the City of New York and the Commissioners of Emigration, the bill alleges that the complainants are subjects of Great Britain and owners of the steamship Ethiopia; that their vessel arrived at the port of New York from Glasgow, Scotland, on the 24th of June, 1875, having on board a

Page 92 U. S. 261

number of emigrant passengers, and, among others, three persons whose names are specified who came from a foreign country intending to pass through the State of New York, and settle and reside in other states of the Union and in Canada; that, by the statutes of the State of New York, the master of every vessel arriving at the port of New York from a foreign port is required, within twenty-four hours after his arrival, to report in writing to the Mayor of New York the name, birthplace, last residence, and occupation of every passenger who is not a citizen of the United States; that the statute then directs the mayor, by endorsement on this report, to require the owner or consignee of the vessel to give a bond for every passenger so reported, in a penalty of $300, with two sureties, each to be a resident and freeholder of the state, conditioned to indemnify the Commissioners of Emigration, and every county, city, and town in the state, against any expense for the relief or support of the person named in the bond for four years thereafter; but that the owner or consignee may commute such bond, and be relieved from giving it, by paying for each passenger, within twenty-four hours after his or her landing, the sum of one dollar and fifty cents, fifty cents whereof is to be paid to other counties in the state, and the residue to the Commissioners of Emigration for their general purposes, and particularly to be used in erecting wharves and buildings, and in paying salaries and clerk hire.

That if he does not, within twenty-four hours after landing such passengers, either give the bond or pay the commutation tax for each passenger, he is liable to a penalty of $500 for every such passenger, which is made a lien on, and may be enforced against, the vessel at the suit of the Commissioners of Emigration.

The master of the Ethiopia made the report required by the act, whereupon the complainants, in order to test the validity of the provisions of the acts requiring the bond or the commutation thereof, filed their bill, which the court, on the demurrer of the defendants, dismissed. The complainants thereupon appealed to this Court.

Page 92 U. S. 265

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