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U.S. Supreme Court

Town of South Ottawa v. Perkins, 94 U.S. 260 (1876)

Town of South Ottawa v. Perkins

94 U.S. 260


1. The Supreme Court of Illinois, by a long course of decisions, has held that under the Constitution of 1848, a statute of that state is not valid unless the legislative journals show that it was passed by a majority of all the members elect in each house of the general assembly.

2. Except where the federal Constitution and laws are concerned, the courts of the United States, in passing upon the constitution and statutes of a state, conform to the settled construction of them by the highest state court, chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 94 U. S. 261

and when the latter holds a pretended act of the legislature to be void and not a law, the courts of the United States are bound to hold accordingly.

3. Any state may, by its constitution and laws, prescribe what shall be conclusive evidence of its statutes, but on general principles the question as to the existence or nonexistence of a statute is a judicial one, and though framed in form as an issue in fact, must, when it arises in the courts of the United States, be decided by them on evidence legally applicable under the laws of the state without taking the advice of a jury on the subject.

4. A municipal corporation cannot, without legislative authority, issue bonds in aid of an extraneous object. Every person dealing in them must, at his peril, take notice of the existence and terms of the law which, it is claimed, conferred the power to issue them, no matter under what circumstances he may obtain them.

5. The plaintiffs in error, municipal corporations in Illinois, having issued the bonds in suit, by virtue of a pretended act of the general assembly, approved Feb. 18, 1857, which was duly published among the printed statutes of that state as a law, and therefore prima facie valid, were not estopped from denying its passage, notwithstanding the holder of the bonds was a bona fide purchaser without actual notice.

6. The Supreme Court of Illinois has decided, in two cases, that that act was never passed, and is not an act of the legislature of that state. This Court concurs in that view, and also holds that no subsequent legislation has given any new force to the act, or any validity to the bonds issued, or the proceedings had, under it.

7. The act of Congress, prescribing the mode in which the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings in each state shall be authenticated, so as to take effect in every other state, has no bearing upon this case.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.

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