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is independent of both.” Jackson was no lover of the Supreme Court, and in this instance certainly stated the case strongly, but in his action he was undoubtedly correct.50 Whether he acted wisely, or even with proper respect toward the other branches of the government is another question.
Whether the President has the right to refuse to execute a law, passed during the term of a predecessor, or over his veto, because he deems it unconstitutional, is an entirely different question from that just considered. Here the President has to deal not with a measure in the process of enactment, as is the case when the veto is exercised, but with a bill that has passed through all this constitutional forms of enactment, and has become a law, and it would seem that he has no option but to enforce the measure. The President has not been given the power to defeat the will of the people or of the legislature as embodied in law. The reasons for maintaining a contrary opinion, as usually stated, are these: The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the President as well as of the private citizen. It is his duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” but he is also sworn to“ preserve, protect and defend the Constitution," and this he must do upon his own interpretation of the Constitution, and not upon that of others. The Constitution is but a law of high degree, and is, therefore, one of the very laws that he must take care are faithfully executed. Says one writer:51 “If the President must execute all laws, he must execute an ex post facto law or any other law flying in the teeth of the constitution; a partisan statute passed over his veto can rob him of the right to be commander-inchief, to nominate or remove from office, or of any other right expressly conferred upon him; and it is at once evident that in these cases Congress would be quite as plainly taking away from the President the power which the constitution has expressly given. A two-thirds majority could alter at will many important provisions of the constitution, and the members could only be called to account at a re-election. That instrument in these cases would
50 Van Holst holds a contrary view. Constitutional History, I, 46. 51 American Law Review, XXIII, 375.
not be self-supporting, and would furnish none of those checks of which we have all heard so much. But if the contrary view is true, the check system comes into perfect play; for then the President's right to refuse his assistance to an unconstitutional law will check Congress, while the risk of impeachment will check the President.”
The errors in this argument are sufficiently plain. In the first place, the President does not stand upon the same footing as regards the Constitution, does the private citizen. The President is an agent selected by the people, for the express purpose of seeing that the laws of the land are executed. If, upon his own judgment, he refuse to execute a law and thus nullifies it, he is arrogating to himself controlling legislative functions, and laws have but an advisory, recommendatory character, depending for power upon the good-will of the President. That there is danger that Congress may by a chance majority, or through the influence of sudden great passion, legislate unwisely or unconstitutionally, was foreseen by those who framed our form of government, and the provision was framed that the President might at his discretion use a veto, but this was the entire extent to which he was allowed to go in the exercise of a check upon the legislation. It was expressly provided that if, after his veto, two-thirds of the legislature should again demand that the measure become a law, it should thus be, notwithstanding the objection of the Chief Executive. Surely there is here left no further constitutional right on the part of the President to hinder the operation of a law.
It is the duty or privilege of a private citizen to refuse obedience to a law, if, upon careful consideration and investigation, he considers it to be unconstitutional, but he does so at his own risk, and if he is wrong he must abide by the legal consequences. Then, too, only his particular interest is directly involved. If, however, it be said that the President also refuses his obedience at his own risk, namely, the danger of impeachment and possible subsequent civil or criminal prosecution, the reply is that, in the first place, a refusal on his part to execute the law nullifies it in all its applications for all people; and in the second place, that impeachment is not a check. As an instrument for checking unconstitutional action on the part of the President, impeachment has been found too cumbersome. If, in the case of the extreme opposition and contest between both Houses of Congress and President Johnson, an impeachment was not successful, it must be admitted that as a means of future restraint upon the Chief Executive it will not be greatly feared.
That the President and all other officers of the government have not the right to refuse obedience to a judgment of the Supreme Court, because he or they believe such judgment to be based upon an incorrect interpretation of the Constitution, scarcely needs argument. This case is stronger than the former one by the additional support of the judiciary. To refuse now to execute the command of the court is to assume the judicial power of a court of appeals as well as legislative functions.
§ 768. Liability of the State for the Acts of Its Officers.
The doctrine of the non-suability of the State prevents the prosecution of a claim against the United States, whether that claim be founded upon a tort of one of its agents, or is one arising out of a contract.
“No government,” says the Supreme Court in Gibbons v. United States 52 “ has ever held itself liable to individuals for the misfeasance, laches, or unauthorized exercise of power by its officers and agents. It does not undertake to guarantee to any person the fidelty of the officers whom it employs, since that would involve it in all its operations in endless embarrassments, and difficulties, and losses which would be subversive of the public interests;
The general principle which we have already stated as applicable to all governments, forbids, as a policy imposed by necessity, that they should hold themselves liable for unauthorized wrongs inflicted by their officers on the citizens though occurring while engaged in the discharge of official duties.” 53
52 8 Wall, 269; 19 L. ed. 453.
63 See also Dooley v. United States, 182 U. S. 222; 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 762; 45 L. ed. 1074, and authorities there cited.
$ 769. Legal Liability of Public Officials to Private Individ
uals Injured by Their Acts; Ultra Vires Acts. As has elsewhere been shown in this treatise, a fundamental principle of American law is that the legality of acts of public officers is determined in the ordinary courts according to the same rules that govern the decision of suits between private individuals. Thus, generally speaking, no officer can defend an ultra vires or otherwise illegal act by setting up his official position or exhibiting the command of a political superior. This last statement as to the non-applicability of the principle of respondeat superior is, however, subject to this qualification, that the order of an administrative superior, prima facie legal, though in fact not legal, may be set up in defense of an act commanded by military superiors. In Re Fair,64 decided in 1900, the court say: “The law is that an order given by an officer to his private, which does not expressly or clearly show on its face its illegality, the soldier is bound to obey; and such order is his full protection. The first duty of an officer is obedience, and without this there can be neither discipline nor efficiency in an army. If every subordinate officer and soldier were at liberty to question the legality of the orders of the commander, and obey them or not as he may consider them valid or invalid, the precious moment for action would be wasted. Its law is that of obedience. No question can be left open of the right to command in the officer, or of the duty of obedience in the soldier. While I do not say that the order given
to the petitioners was in all particulars a lawful order, I do say that the illegality of the order, if illegal it was, was not so much so as to be apparent and palpable to the commonest understanding. If, then, the petitioners acted under such order in good faith, they are not liable to prosecution.” 65
The result of the doctrine thus stated is, as will be seen, that an act is defended for the performance of which in fact no legal authority can be produced. Simply the color of authority on the
54 100 Fed. Rep. 149. 65 Of. Wyman, American Administrative Law, $ 2.
part of the superior giving the command is held a sufficient de fense. Clearly common justice, and the practical necessities of administration justify the rule, yet, inasmuch as it does in fact protect an act essentially illegal, the doctrine is one that is kert within the narrowest possible bounds. Only where there is present no fact which would put the subordinate, as a man of ordinary intelligence, upon his guard, or where the practical necessities of the case leave little or no opportunity for individual judginent in the matter, should the rule be applied. In all other cases, it is to be repeated, the public official is able to defend his act only by showing some existing legal authority for it.
The necessities of the case require the foregoing doctrine, with reference to the military arm of government. There not being the same urgency for immediate obedience, the doctrine does not prevail in civil matters. Thus, in Hendricks v. Gonzales56 the order of the Secretary of the Treasury to the Collector of the Port of New York was held not to exonerate him from liability for an act done under it, the court saying: “The questions presented by the assignments of error seem free from doubt. The plaintiff having complied with the condition entitling him to clearance, it was the duty of the defendant as collector of the port, to grant a clearance for the vessel and her cargo, unless he was justified in refusing to do so by some other statutory authority. Neither the Secretary of the Treasury nor the President could nullify the statute, and though the defendant may have thought himself bound to obey the instructions of the former, his mistaken sense of duty could not justify his refusal of the clearance, and these instructions afforded him no protection unless they were authorized in law."
770. Mandamus to Compel Performance of Commands of
Administrative Superior. As earlier pointed out, where the performance of a ministerial duty is commanded by an administrative superior, mandamus will
56 67 Fed. Rep. 351.