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Law School Case Brief

Marshall Field & Co. v. Clark - 143 U.S. 649


The signing by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and by the President of the Senate, in open session, of an enrolled bill, is an official attestation by the two houses of such bill as one that has passed Congress. It is a declaration by the two houses, through their presiding officers, to the President, that a bill, thus attested, has received, in due form, the sanction of the legislative branch of the government, and that it is delivered to him in obedience to the constitutional requirement that all bills which pass Congress shall be presented to him. And when a bill, thus attested, receives his approval, and is deposited in the public archives, its authentication as a bill that has passed Congress should be deemed complete and unimpeachable.


The Circuit Court of the United States, Northern District of Illinois, and the Circuit Court of the United States, Southern District of New York, both ruled in favor of the respondent government in suits brought by the appellant importers to obtain a refund of duties claimed to have been illegally exacted on imported merchandise under the Tariff Act of October 1, 1890, 26 Stat. 567, ch. 1244. Various importers protested against a government assessment upon the ground that the Act authorizing such assessment was not a law of the United States. The assessments were upheld and subsequently affirmed by the circuit courts. The importers asserted that a section of the Act, as it finally passed, was not contained in the bill authenticated by the relevant congressional officers and approved by the President.


Was the Tariff Act of 1890 unconstitutional?




On review, the Court held that the importers could not present evidence from such sources as the congressional journals, committee reports, or other congressionally authorized documents, to thereby question whether such law was passed by Congress insofar as an enrolled act, that was in the custody of the Secretary of State, that had been attested by the signatures of the presiding officers of the two houses of Congress, and had the approval of the President, was conclusive evidence that such Act was passed by Congress.  Section 3 of the Act was not liable to the objection that it transferred legislative and treaty-making power to the President, and the entire Act need not be held inoperative and void based upon the validity of section 1's bounty clause.

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