101 U.S. 22 (____)


Supreme Court of United States.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Jeremiah S. Black, Mr. George F. Edmunds, and Mr. David Wagner for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. Henry Hitchcock and Mr. Chester H. Krum, contra.

MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.

By the Constitution and laws of Missouri an appeal lies to the Supreme Court of that State from any final judgment or decree of any circuit court, except those in the counties of Saint Charles, Lincoln, Warren, and Saint Louis, and the city of Saint Louis; for which counties and city the Constitution of 1875 establishes a separate court of appeal, called the Saint Louis Court of Appeals, and gives to said court exclusive jurisdiction of all appeals from, and writs of error to, the circuit courts of those counties and of said city; and from this court (the Saint Louis Court of Appeals) an appeal lies to the Supreme Court only in cases where the amount in dispute, exclusive of costs, exceeds the sum of $2,500, and in cases involving the construction of the Constitution of the United States or of Missouri, and in some other cases of special character which are enumerated. No appeal is given to the Supreme Court in a case like the present arising in the counties referred to, or in the city of Saint Louis; but a similar case arising in the circuit courts of any other county would be appealable directly to the Supreme Court.

The plaintiff in error contends that this feature of the judicial system of Missouri is in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, because it denies to suitors in the courts of Saint Louis and the counties named the equal protection of the laws, in that it denies to them the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of Missouri in cases where it gives that right to suitors in the courts of the other counties of the State.

If this position is correct, the Fourteenth Amendment has a much more far-reaching effect than has been supposed. It would render invalid all limitations of jurisdiction based on the amount or character of the demand. A party having a claim for only five dollars could with equal propriety complain that he is deprived of a right enjoyed by other citizens, because he cannot prosecute it in the superior courts; and another might equally complain that he cannot bring a suit for real estate in a justice's court, where the expense is small and the proceedings are expeditious. There is no difference in principle between such discriminations as these in the jurisdictions of courts and that which the plaintiff in error complains of in the present case.

If, however, we take into view the general objects and purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, we shall find no reasonable ground for giving it any such application. These are to extend United States citizenship to all natives and naturalized persons, and to prohibit the States from abridging their privileges or immunities, and from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, and from denying to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. It contemplates persons and classes of persons. It has not respect to local and municipal regulations that do not injuriously affect or discriminate between persons or classes of persons within the places or municipalities for which such regulations are made. The amendment could never have been intended to prevent a State from arranging and parcelling out the jurisdiction of its several courts at its discretion. No such restriction as this could have been in view, or could have been included, in the prohibition that "no State shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." It is the right of every State to establish such courts as it sees fit, and to prescribe their several jurisdictions as to territorial extent, subject-matter, and amount, and the finality and effect of their decisions, provided it does not encroach upon the proper jurisdiction of the United States, and does not abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, and does not deprive any person of his rights without due process of law, nor deny to any person the equal protection of the laws, including the equal right to resort to the appropriate courts for redress. The last restriction, as to the equal protection of the laws, is not violated by any diversity in the jurisdiction of the several courts as to subject-matter, amount, or finality of decision, if all persons within the territorial limits of their respective jurisdictions have an equal right, in like cases and under like circumstances, to resort to them for redress. Each State has the right to make political subdivisions of its territory for municipal purposes, and to regulate their local government. As respects the administration of justice, it may establish one system of courts for cities and another for rural districts, one system for one portion of its territory and another system for another portion. Convenience, if not necessity, often requires this to be done, and it would seriously interfere with the power of a State to regulate its internal affairs to deny to it this right. We think it is not denied or taken away by any thing in the Constitution of the United States, including the amendments thereto.

We might go still further, and say, with undoubted truth, that there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent any State from adopting any system of laws or judicature it sees fit for all or any part of its territory. If the State of New York, for example, should see fit to adopt the civil law and its method of procedure for New York City and the surrounding counties, and the common law and its method of procedure for the rest of the State, there is nothing in the Constitution of the United States to prevent its doing so. This would not, of itself, within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, be a denial to any person of the equal protection of the laws. If every person residing or being in either portion of the State should be accorded the equal protection of the laws prevailing there, he could not justly complain of a violation of the clause referred to. For, as before said, it has respect to persons and classes of persons. It means that no person or class of persons shall be denied the same protection of the laws which is enjoyed by other persons or other classes in the same place and under like circumstances.

The Fourteenth Amendment does not profess to secure to all persons in the United States the benefit of the same laws and the same remedies. Great diversities in these respects may exist in two States separated only by an imaginary line. On one side of this line there may be a right of trial by jury, and on the other side no such right. Each State prescribes its own modes of judicial proceeding. If diversities of laws and judicial proceedings may exist in the several States without violating the equality clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, there is no solid reason why there may not be such diversities in different parts of the same State. A uniformity which is not essential as regards different States cannot be essential as regards different parts of a State, provided that in each and all there is no infraction of the constitutional provision. Diversities which are allowable in different States are allowable in different parts of the same State. Where part of a State is thickly settled, and another part has but few inhabitants, it may be desirable to have different systems of judicature for the two portions, — trial by jury in one, for example, and not in the other. Large cities may require a multiplication of courts and a peculiar arrangement of jurisdictions. It would be an unfortunate restriction of the powers of the State government if it could not, in its discretion, provide for these various exigencies.

If a Mexican State should be acquired by treaty and added to an adjoining State, or part of a State, in the United States, and the two should be erected into a new State, it cannot be doubted that such new State might allow the Mexican laws and judicature to continue unchanged in the one portion, and the common law and its corresponding judicature in the other portion. Such an arrangement would not be prohibited by any fair construction of the Fourteenth Amendment. It would not be based on any respect of persons or classes, but on municipal considerations alone, and a regard to the welfare of all classes within the particular territory or jurisdiction.

It is not impossible that a distinct territorial establishment and jurisdiction might be intended as, or might have the effect of, a discrimination against a particular race or class, where such race or class should happen to be the principal occupants of the disfavored district. Should such a case ever arise, it will be time enough then to consider it. No such case is pretended to exist in the present instance.

It is apparent from the view we have taken of the import and effect of the equality clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which has been relied upon by the plaintiff in error in this case, that it cannot be invoked to invalidate that portion of the judicial system established by the Constitution and laws of Missouri, which is the subject of complaint. This follows without any special examination of the particular adjustment of jurisdictions between the courts of Missouri as affected by its Constitution and laws. Such a special examination, however, if it were our province to make it, would readily show that there is no foundation for the complaint which has been made. Bowman has had the benefit of the right of appeal to the full extent enjoyed by any member of the profession in other parts of the State. In the outside counties they have but one appeal, — from the Circuit Court to the Supreme Court. In Saint Louis, he had the benefit of an appeal from the Circuit Court of Saint Louis County to the Saint Louis Court of Appeals. This is as much as he could ask, even if his rights of appeal were to be nicely measured by the right enjoyed in the outside counties. The Constitution of the State has provided two courts of appeal for different portions of its territory, — the Saint Louis Court of Appeals for one portion, and the Supreme Court for another portion. It is not for us, nor for any other tribunal, to say that these courts do not afford equal security for the due administration of the laws of Missouri within their respective jurisdictions. Where the decisions of the Saint Louis Court of Appeals are final, they are clothed with all the majesty of the law which surrounds those of the Supreme Court. If in certain cases a still further appeal is allowed from the one court to the other, this fact does not derogate in the least from the credit and authority of those decisions of the former which by the Constitution and laws of the State are final and conclusive.

But this special consideration is an accidental phase of the particular case. The true ground on which the case rests is the undoubted power of the State to regulate the jurisdiction of its own tribunals for the different portions of its territory in such manner as it sees fit, subject only to the limitations before referred to; and our conclusion is that this power is unaffected by the constitutional provision which has been relied on to invalidate its exercise in this case.

Judgment affirmed.


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