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U.S. Supreme Court

Monongahela Bridge Co. v. United States, 216 U.S. 177 (1910)

Monongahela Bridge Company v. United States

No. 91

Argued January 19, 1910

Decided February 21, 1910

216 U.S. 177


Congress may, in order to enforce its enactments, clothe an executive officer with power to ascertain whether certain specified facts exist and thereupon to act in a prescribed manner, without delegating, in a constitutional sense, legislative or judicial power to such officer.

Under its paramount power to regulate commerce, Congress can require navigable waters of the United States, although within a state, to be freed from unreasonable obstructions, and it is not a delegation of legislative or judicial power to charge the Secretary of War with the duty of ascertaining, under a general rule applicable to all navigable waters and upon notice to the parties in interest, whether a particular bridge is an unreasonable obstruction to navigation.

An act of Congress which invests the Secretary of War with power to require the removal of obstructions to navigation after notice to parties in interest and opportunity to be heard and reasonable time to make alterations in the obstruction, as § 18 of the River and Harbor Act of March 3, 1899, 30 Stat. 1151, does not invest the Secretary with arbitrary power beyond constitutional limitations.

To require, after notice and hearing, alterations to be made within a reasonable time and in a bridge over such navigable waters so as to prevent its being an obstruction to navigation is not a taking of private property for public use which, under the Constitution, must be preceded by compensation made or secured to the owners of the bridge.

The erection of a bridge over such navigable waters within a state by authority of the state is subject to the paramount authority of Congress to regulate commerce among the states and its right to remove unreasonable obstructions to navigation.

The mere silence of Congress and its failure to interfere to prevent the construction under state authority of an obstruction to navigation does not prevent it from subsequently requiring the removal of the obstruction or impose upon the United States a constitutional obligation to make compensation therefor. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 216 U. S. 178

It is for Congress, under the Constitution, to regulate the right of navigation in navigable waters of the United States and to declare what must be done to clear navigation from obstructions, and where this has been done in the manner required by Congress, it is not the province of the jury, on the trial of one refusing to remove obstructions, to determine whether the removal was necessary.

An act will not be declared unconstitutional merely because an executive officer might, in another case, act arbitrarily or recklessly under it. If such a case arises, the courts can protect the rights of the government or persons which are based on fundamental principles for the protection of rights of property.

The facts are stated in the opinion. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 216 U. S. 185

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