Limits on States: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution

By James M. McGoldrick Jr. | Go to book overview

8
Concluding Comments on Article I,
Section 10

Although the Framers intended Article I, Section 10, to be the principal limitation on state power in the new Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition on state acts in violation of due process and equal protection rights has far outstripped Section 10 in modern importance. The Fourteenth Amendment by itself would have been important enough, but when the doctrine of incorporation is added, whereby through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment the most important provisions in the original Bill of Rights are also made applicable to the states, Section 10 stands as a weak reminder of a bygone era. Even historically, the implied limitations found in the Commerce Clause on the states’ ability to regulate or tax interstate commerce—a limitation not even expressly found in the Constitution—may have been an even more important limitation on state power. This is not to say that Section 10 is without importance, but just that it is not the kind of importance the Framers envisioned for it.

Certainly, the Contract Clause continues to have validity. While its absolute language prohibiting state impairment of contracts has not held sway since at least the Great Depression (Home Building & Loan Assn. v. Blaisdell, 1934), even in more modern times states cannot casually cast aside either their own contracts (U.S. Trust Co. of New York v. New Jersey, 1977) or private contracts (Allied Structural Steel Co. v. Spannaus, 1978). While the modern Public Purpose Balancing Test gives the state every opportunity to justify impairing preexisting contracts by showing some overriding public interest, the test does not appear to be without at least some teeth. Even after a recent U.S. Supreme Court Contract Clause case as dismissive of preexisting contracts as Exxon Corp. v. Eagerton (1983), the lower courts still find a too callous disregard of contractual interest to be in violation of the Contract Clause.

There is no denying that there is some tension in the lower court cases between courts that find that the constitutional singling out of contract rights for special protection still has significance and lower courts that view contract rights as just another economic interest subject to being overridden for any reason ra-

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Limits on States: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Foreword ix
  • Foreword xiii
  • 1 - History and Introduction to Article I, Section 10 1
  • 2 - The Contract Clause 5
  • 3 - Bills of Attainder 55
  • 4 - Ex Post Facto Laws 65
  • 5 - The Nonretroactive Provisions of Article I, Section 10 81
  • 6 - The Import-Export Clause 89
  • 7 - Interstate Compacts 101
  • 8 - Concluding Comments on Article I, Section 10 111
  • Bibliographical Essay 115
  • Table of Cases 125
  • Index 131
  • About the Author 135
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