3 Dall. 386, 1 L.Ed. 648 ( 1798)
The legislature of Connecticut passed a law granting a new hearing to Bull and his wife, after their right to appeal a probate court decree had expired. At the second hearing, Bull was successful, and Calder, the other claimant, after appealing unsuccessfully to the highest Connecticut court, brought his case to the Supreme Court on a writ of error. The opinions of the Justices are important, not only for their definition of ex post facto laws, but for the views expressed about natural law and judicial review.
CHASE, JUSTICE. . . . The counsel for the plaintiffs in error contend, that the said resolution or law of the legislature of Connecticut, granting a new hearing, in the above case, is an ex post facto law, prohibited by the constitution of the United States; that any law of the federal government, or of any of the state governments, contrary to the constitution of the United States, is void; and that this court possesses the power to declare such law void.
It appears to me a self-evident proposition, that the several state legislatures retain all the powers of legislation, delegated to them by the state constitutions; which are not expressly taken away by the constitution of the United States. The establishing courts of justice, the appointment of judges, and the making regulations for the administration of justice within each state, according to its laws, on all subjects not intrusted to the federal government, appears to me to be the peculiar and exclusive province and duty of the state legislatures. All the powers delegated by the people of the United States to the federal government are defined, and no constructive powers can be exercised by it, and all the powers that remain in the state governments are indefinite. . . . The sole inquiry is, whether this resolution or law of Connecticut . . . is an ex post facto law, within the prohibition of the federal constitution?
Whether the legislature of any of the states can revise and correct by law, a decision of any of its courts of justice, although not prohibited by the constitution of the state, is a question of very great importance, and not necessary now to be determined; because the resolution or law in question does not go so far. I cannot subscribe to the omnipotence of a state legislature, or that it is absolute and without control; although its authority should not be expressly restrained by the constitution, or fundamental law of the state. The people of the United States erected their constitutions or forms of government, to establish justice, to promote the general welfare, to secure the blessings of liberty; and to protect their persons and property from violence. The purposes for which men enter into society will determine the nature and terms of the social compact; and as they are the foundation of the legislative power, they will decide what are the proper objects of it. The nature and ends of legislative power will limit