U.S. Supreme Court
Hewitt v. Schultz, 180 U.S. 139 (1901)
Hewitt v. Schultz
Argued October 15-16, 1900
Decided January 7, 1901
180 U.S. 139
The controlling question in this case is whether it was competent for the Secretary of the Interior, upon receiving and approving of the map of the definite location of the Northern Pacific Railroad, to make the order of withdrawal stated by the court in its opinion in respect of the odd-numbered sections of land within the indemnity limits -- that is, of lands between the forty-mile and fifty-mile limits. In 1888, Secretary Vilas, in an elaborate opinion, held that the Northern Pacific Act forbade the Land Department to withdraw from the operation of the preemption and homestead laws any lands within the indemnity limits of the grant made by the Act of July 2, 1884, 13 Stat. 365, c. 217, and that, until a valid selection by the grantee was made from the lands within the indemnity limits, they were entirely open to disposition by the United States or to appropriation under the laws of the United States for the disposition of the public lands. Held that the question could not be said to be free from doubt, but that it was the settled doctrine of the Court that, in case of ambiguity, the Judicial Department will lean in favor of a construction given to a statute by the department charged with the execution of such statute, and, if such construction be acted upon for a number of years, will look with disfavor upon any sudden change whereby parties who have contracted with the government upon the faith of such construction may be prejudiced.
If the question whether there has been deficiency in the grant of lands to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company was at all material in this case, no effect can be given to the certificate of Commissioner Lamoreus set out in the findings of fact.
The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.