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Law School Case Brief

Downes v. Bidwell - 182 U.S. 244, 21 S. Ct. 770 (1901)


The power over the territories is vested in Congress without limitation; this power has been considered the foundation upon which the territorial governments rest. The power of Congress over the territories of the United States is general and plenary, arising from and incidental to the right to acquire the territory itself, and from the power given by the U.S. Constitution to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States. 


Downes brought an action against Bidwell, the collector of a United States state port, to recover duties paid under protest upon certain oranges consigned to Downes, brought over from the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, after the passage of the Foraker Act (Act), which temporarily provided a civil government and revenues for the island of Puerto Rico. Downes claimed that because Puerto Rico was no longer considered a foreign country but was a territory of the United States, duties were no longer collectible upon merchandise brought in from that island. The lower court dismissed Downes’ claim for want of jurisdiction and for insufficiency of the complaint's averments. 


Could Downes recover back duties paid under protest upon certain property imported from Puerto Rico?




Despite the lack of a majority opinion, the Court nevertheless affirmed that Puerto Rico was a territory appurtenant belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States within the Revenue Clauses of the U.S. Constitution, and, therefore, the Foraker Act was constitutional, so far as it imposed duties upon imports from the island. Hence, Downes could not recover the duties exacted.

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