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Missouri v. Holland

    Brief Fact Summary. Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (the Act) for the protection of endangered migratory birds. The Act prohibited the killing, capturing or selling of such birds. The State of Missouri brought suit, arguing the Act violated the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Where the government acts in response to a national exigency by the use of its Treaty Powers, the Court is unlikely to find such action is forbidden by the characteristically general terms of the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.

    Facts. In 1916, the United States and Great Britain entered into a treaty for the protection of certain migratory birds that traverse between the United States and Canada. In 1918, Congress passed the Act to facilitate the enforcement of the treaty. The Act prohibited the killing, capturing, or selling of any of the birds listed in the Treaty. The state of Missouri brought a suit in order to prevent enforcement of the Act on the ground that the Act was in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.

    Issue. Did the statute enacted in pursuance of the treaty unconstitutionally interfere with the rights reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution?

    Held. No. The treaty and the statute are upheld. The lower court’s decree is affirmed.
    A problem of the sharpest exigency for the national well-being was at stake: a source of our food supply and protectors of our forests were at risk of extinction.
    Only a treaty followed by an act of Congress could adequately address the exigency. There are no express prohibitory provisions in the Constitution against Congress’ actions.
    The only potential implied prohibitory provision consists of “some invisible radiation from the general terms of the Tenth Amendment.”

    Discussion. The student should consider what the scope of Missouri v. Holland is. Is the case only relevant in the context of federalism-based issues? How would the Court have decided the case if the treaty had arguably violated the Fourteenth Amendment?


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