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Law School Case Brief

Fairchild v. Hughes - 258 U.S. 126, 42 S. Ct. 274 (1922)


Every citizen has the right to require that the federal government be administered according to law and that the public moneys be not wasted. Obviously this general right does not entitle a private citizen to institute in the federal courts a suit to secure by indirection a determination whether a statute if passed, or a constitutional amendment about to be adopted, will be valid.


Plaintiff Charles S. Fairchild, on behalf of himself and other concerned citizens, filed an action seeking to have the Nineteenth Amendment (women's right to suffrage) declared unconstitutional and to enjoin defendants, the United States Secretary of State and the United States Attorney General, from proclaiming its ratification and from enforcing the amendment. Defendants argued that the Nineteenth Amendment would not be conclusive of its validity but would lead election officers to permit women to vote in states whose constitution limited suffrage to men. Plaintiff argued that free citizens would be deprived of their right to have such elections duly held, that the effectiveness of their votes would be diminished, and that election expenses would nearly double by allowing women the right to vote. The Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia dismissed the bill and plaintiff appealed.


Was the citizen entitled to institute a private suit to determine the validity of a Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote?




On review from dismissal of plaintiff's action, the Court found that no claim was brought before the Court for determination by such regular proceedings as were established by law or custom for the protection or enforcement of rights, or the prevention, redress or punishment of wrongs. The Court noted that the plaintiff was not an elected official and that the state in which he resided had ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. The Court held that the general right of citizens to require that the government be administered according to law and that the public money not be wasted did not entitle a private citizen to institute a suit in the federal courts to secure a determination of whether an amendment would be valid if adopted.

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