Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416; 40 S. Ct. 382; 64 L. Ed. 641 (1920)

Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416; 40 S. Ct. 382; 64 L. Ed. 641 (1920)

Facts—The United States entered into a treaty with Great Britain to protect migratory birds. In the treaty was a provision that each of the contracting powers undertake to pass laws to forbid the killing, capturing, or selling of the birds except in accordance with certain regulations. Although the federal government had not pursued appeals in earlier cases in which courts had struck down federal regulations of wild game as violations of state power under the Tenth Amendment, Congress enacted legislation under the new treaty and Missouri brought suit, saying that the act and treaty violated its reserved powers under the Tenth Amendment.

Question—Do the treaty and statute interfere invalidly with the rights reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment?

Decision—No.

ReasonsJ. Holmes (7–2). Acts of Congress must be made in pursuance of the Constitution, but treaties are valid when made under the authority of the United States. “We do not mean to imply that there are no qualifications to the treaty-making power; but they must be ascertained in a different way. It is obvious that there may be matters of the sharpest exigency for the national well-being that an act of Congress could not deal with but that a treaty followed by such an act could, and it is not lightly to be assumed that, in matters requiring national action, ‘a power which must belong to and somewhere reside in every civilized government’ is not to be found. Here a national interest of very nearly the first magnitude is involved. It can be protected only by national action in concert with that of another power. The subject matter is only transitorily within the state and has no permanent habitat therein.

“If the treaty is valid there can be no dispute about the validity of the statute under Article I, Section 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the government.”

Note—Although subsequent Supreme Court decisions have made reservations to its reasoning, Missouri seemed to hold that Congress might do by treaty what is inadmissible by law. The Bricker Amendment, proposed in 1954 and defeated after a close vote, attacked this view. Had the amendment been adopted it would (a) have reduced a treaty to the status of a law, (b) brought the House into the treaty process, and (c) reversed Missouri v. Holland.

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