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Missouri v. Holland

    Brief Fact Summary. In order to prevent Holland (D) who was a game warden of the United States from attempting to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on the ground that the statute was an unconstitutional interference with the rights reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment, Missouri (P) brought this suit against the defendants.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When Acts of Congress are made in pursuance of the Constitution, then the Acts of Congress are the supreme law of the land, while treaties are declared to be so when made under the authority of the United States.

    Facts. In order to prevent Holland (D) who was a game warden of the United States from attempting to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on the ground that the statute was an unconstitutional interference with the rights reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment, the state of Missouri brought up this bill. The ground of the bill is that the statute is an unconstitutional interference with the rights reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment and that the acts of Holland (D) done and threatened under the authority to invade the sovereign right of the state of Missouri (P) and contravene its will manifested in statutes. The district court sustained a motion for dismissal on the ground that the act of Congress is constitutional.

    Issue. Are treaties the supreme law of the land when made under the authority of the United States?

    Held. (Holmes, J.) Yes. When Acts of Congress are made in pursuance of the Constitution, then the Acts of Congress are the supreme law of the land, while treaties are declared to be so when made under the authority of the United States. It has been argued that a treaty cannot be valid if it infringes the Constitution, that there are limits to the treaty making power and that one such limit is that what an act of Congress could not do unaided, in derogation of the powers reserved to the states, a treaty cannot do. The provision of the Migratory Bird treaty Act are supreme law of the land and binding on the state of Missouri because it was made in pursuant to a treaty between the United States and Canada. Hence, the treaty and the statute must be upheld. The lower court decree is thus affirmed.

    Discussion. While shedding light on the foreign affairs power in United States v Curtis-Wright Export Corp, 299, U.S. 304 (1936), justice Sutherland stated that as a result of the separation from Great Britain by the colonies acting as a unit, the powers of external sovereignty passed from the Crown not to the colonies severally but to the colonies in their collective and corporate capacity as the United States. The colonies were a unit in foreign affairs even before the Declaration and the powers to make treaties and maintain diplomatic relations, if they had never been mentioned in the Constitution would have vested in the federal government as necessary concomitants of nationality.


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