Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch (10 U.S.) 87; 3 L. Ed. 162 (1810)

Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch (10 U.S.) 87; 3 L. Ed. 162 (1810)

Facts—John Peck deeded to Robert Fletcher lands in the state of Georgia, which had been bought from the state of Georgia. The contract was executed in the form of a bill passed through the Georgia legislature in 1795, but it appears that most members had accepted bribes. The next legislature accordingly rescinded the act and took possession of the land. Fletcher sued Peck to regain the purchase price.

Question—Can one state legislature rescind an earlier state legislative grant of land that was an executed contract?


ReasonsC.J. Marshall (5–0). A valid contract was executed. The state of Georgia was restrained either by general principles that are common to our free institutions or by particular provisions of the Constitution of the United States, from passing a law whereby the estate of the plaintiff in the premises so purchased could be constitutionally and legally impaired and rendered null and void. “One legislature is competent to repeal any act which a former legislature was competent to pass; and that one legislature cannot abridge the powers of a succeeding legislature.” However, “if an act be done under a law, a succeeding legislature cannot undo it. When, then, a law is in its nature a contract, when absolute rights have vested under that contract, a repeal of the law cannot divest those rights; and the act of annulling them, if legitimate, is rendered so by a power applicable to the case of every individual in the community.”

NotePeck, an unpopular decision, was the first case in which the Court held a state law contrary to the Constitution.

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