American Constitutional Law: Introductory Essays & Selected Cases

By Alpheus Thomas Mason; William M. Beaney | Go to book overview

Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell

290 U.S. 398, 54 S.Ct. 231, 78 L.Ed. 413 ( 1934)

The Minnesota Mortgage Moratorium Law, passed in 1933, was designed to prevent the foreclosure of mortgages during the emergency produced by economic depression. The Act authorized judicial action by which the redemption period of mortgages could be extended under conditions set by the court. The Act was to remain in effect "only during the continuance of the emergency and in no event beyond May 1, 1935." Blaisdell had mortgaged a lot to the appellant company; when the company foreclosed, Blaisdell sought an extension of the period of redemption on the ground that he would not be able to redeem by the date fixed by the law in effect when the mortgage had been foreclosed. The court extended the redemption period on condition that certain monthly payments be made. The Supreme Court of Minnesota affirmed the judgment. The Loan Company appealed.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court. . . .

The state court upheld the statute as an emergency measure. Although conceding that the obligations of the mortgage contract were impaired, the court decided that what it thus described as an impairment was, notwithstanding the contract clause of the Federal Constitution, within the police power of the state as that power was called into exercise by the public economic emergency which the Legislature had found to exist. Attention is thus directed to the preamble and first section of the statute which described the existing emergency in terms that were deemed to justify the temporary relief which the statute affords. The state court, declaring that it could not say that this legislative finding was without basis, supplemented that finding by its own statement of conditions of which it took judicial notice. The court said:

"In addition to the weight to be given the determination of the Legislature that an economic emergency exists which demands relief, the court must take notice of other considerations. The members of the Legislature come from every community of the state and from all the walks of life. They are familiar with conditions generally in every calling, occupation, profession, and business in the state. Not only they, but the courts must be guided by what is common knowledge. It is common knowledge that in the last few years land values have shrunk enormously. Loans made a few years ago upon the basis of the then going values cannot possibly be replaced on the basis of present values. We all know that when this law was enacted the large financial companies which had made it their business to invest in mortgages, had ceased to do so. No bank would directly or indirectly loan on real estate mortgages. Life insurance companies, large investors on such mortgages, had even declared a moratorium

-373-

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