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U.S. Supreme Court

Employers' Liability Cases, 207 U.S. 463 (1908)

The Employers' Liability Cases

Nos. 216, 222

Argued April 10, 11, 12, 1907

Decided January 6, 1908

207 U.S. 463


In testing the constitutionality of an act of Congress, this Court confines itself to the power of Congress to pass the act, and may not consider any real or imaginary evils arising from its execution.

Under the grant given by the Constitution to regulate interstate commerce and the authority given to use all means appropriate to the exercise of the powers conferred, Congress has power to regulate the relation of master and servant to the extent that such regulations are confined solely to interstate commerce.

An act addressed to all common carriers engaged in interstate commerce, and imposing a liability upon them in favor of any of their employees, without qualification or restriction as to the nature of the business at the time of the injury, of necessity includes subjects wholly outside of the power of Congress under the commerce clause of the Constitution.

The legislative power of Congress over the District of Columbia and the territories is plenary, and does not depend upon the special grants of power, such as the commerce clause of the Constitution.

To restrict a general act of Congress relating to common carriers, by interpretation to interstate commerce, so as to validate it as to the carriers in the several states, would unduly restrict it as to carriers in the District of Columbia and the territories.

While it is the duty of this Court to so construe an act of Congress as to render it constitutional if it can be lawfully done, an ambiguous statute cannot be rewritten to accomplish this result.

Where a statute contains some provisions that are constitutional and some that are not, effect may be given to the former by separating them from the latter, but this rule does not apply where the provisions of the statute are dependent upon each other and are indivisible, or where it does not plainly appear that Congress would have enacted the constitutional legislation without the unconstitutional provisions.

One engaging in interstate commerce does not thereby submit all his business to the regulating power of Congress. chanrobles.com-red

Page 207 U. S. 464

While the Act of Congress of June 11, 1906, 34 Stat. 232, known as the Employers' Liability Act, embraces subjects within the authority of Congress to regulate commerce, it also includes subjects not within its constitutional power, and the two are so interblended in the statute that they are incapable of separation, and the statute is therefore repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, and nonenforceable. *

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of the act of Congress of July 11, 1906, relating to the liability of common carriers in the District of Columbia and territories and common carriers engaged in interstate commerce to their employees, are stated in the opinion. chanrobles.com-red

Page 207 U. S. 489