Passenger Cases

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(Smith v. Turner, Norris v. Boston), 7 How. (48 U.S.) 283 (1849), argued 19–22 Dec. 1848, decided 7 Feb. 1849 by vote of 5 to 4; no opinion for the Court (McLean, Wayne, Catron, McKinley, and Grier comprised the majority), Daniel, Woodbury, Taney, and Nelson in dissent. Smith v. Turner and Norris v. Boston had each been argued twice separately before being combined as the Passenger Cases, by which name they are commonly known. At issue were New York and Massachusetts taxes on incoming passengers, including immigrants, with the proceeds being used to finance hospitals for ships’ passengers. The Court's majority invalidated the laws, but the decision produced no useful doctrine. It merely demonstrated the subsurface divisions on the Court caused by the problem of the states’ control over slavery, free African-Americans, abolitionists, and antislavery propaganda. The plethora of opinions (eight in all) demonstrated that in the charged atmosphere of the slavery controversy, the Court was unable to deal effectively with issues raised by the Commerce Clause. This problem had manifested itself in Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's maiden term in New York v. Miln (1837) and would persist until a partial resolution was achieved in Cooley v. Board of Wardens (1852).

Donald M. Roper

Subjects: Law.

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