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§ 20). In States where no constitutional or legal provision is made on the subject, the common law rule prevails; each State determining its own rule of interpretation. This is a question of great moment, inasmuch as the common law presumption, is:"that every citizen knows the law, and according to the maxim'ignorantia legis neminem excusat.'
It is impossible that the citizens or subjects of an extensive and populous country, can obtain any accurate knowledge of the purport of an act on the day of its passage; and the doctrine, that the last act signed, is to prevail over, and to abrogate or nullify one duly enacted a few hours previous, is arbitrary, unreliable, and may be oppressive. These evils are obviated by the provisions of this, and other States above mentioned.
The title should properly distinguish the act, by such a name as expresses, in general terms, its main intent; and if not perpetual, its temporary duration.
The title of a statute, it has been a repeatedly held, is no part or parcel of the statute; for it is usually framed only by the clerk of that House in which the bill first passes, and is seldom read more than once.b In Wills v. Wilkins, Holt chief justice, said, "It is true that the title of an act of parliament, is no part of the law or enacting part, no more than the title of a book is part of a book; for the title is not the law, but the name or description given to it by the makers."c
a Barrington on Stat. 449, notis; 1 W. Bl. 85, R. v. Williams. b 3 Rep. 33, Poulter's case. c Wills v. Wilkins, 6 Mod, 62. NOTE 4.-It is otherwise in American legislation; here the representatives prepare the whole statute, title, preamble, (if any,) and body of the statute.
Though the title of an act cannot control plain words in the body of the statute, yet, taken with other parts, it may assist in removing ambiguities. Where the intent is plain, nothing is left to construction; but where the mind labors to discover the design of the law-making power, everything which can aid this object, may be resorted to, and even the title of the act, in such case, may receive a due share of consideration. United States v. Fisher, 2 Cranch 386. The inten tion of the law-maker it has always been held, is the best guide in the construction of statutes. United States v. Palmer, 3 Wheat. 631. Williams v. Williams, 8 N. Y. R. 535.
In doubtful cases, the title of an act may serve to explain its general purport, and the inducement that led to its enactment, but even then it has little weight: Hadden v. Collector, 5 Wallace, 107, and when the title is at variance with its provisions, it is entitled to no consideration, though it may tend to explain s doubtful meaning of a part of it. id. It cannot be used to extend or restrain any positive provisions contained in the body of it. id, A law may be good, though it is in conflict with the title.
Being thus no part of the act, the title is said to afford "no legislative import.❞ a
The mere title of an act is, therefore, a very insufficient and unsafe guide to assist us in ascertaining, even in the most general way, the scope and purport of the act; yet when the mind labors to discover the intention of the legislature, it naturally seizes upon every thing, even the title, from which aid may be derived. As an example of an act greatly "more spacious than its title," Lord Coke refers to the Statute of Uses, "which extends to jointures and dowers of women." The title to an act then, though no part of an act, is not to be wholly disregarded in putting a construction upon the statute. The object of the legislature is very often avowed in the title to an act, as well as in the preamble. But being no part of the act, in a legal sense, it would be preposterous to attempt to use it, in restraining or controling any provision of the act; it can only be used for the fact, of the makers having given the law a certain name; if that fact, can render any assistance in doubtful cases.
Titles, to legislative acts in the State of New York, and in several other of the States of the union, are matters of very great moment, in a constitutional view of the statute. By section 16 of article 3, of the constitution of New York of 1846, "no private or local bill which may be passed by the legislature, shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title." Acts passed by the legislature in violation of this provision, have been declared by the courts to be null and void. It was well said in an opinion in the supreme court of this State as follows: "Instances had occurred in which important enactments had been smuggled through the legislature, under the cover of some bill with a modest and unpretending title. To guard the legislature as well as the public, against this kind of imposition, the framers of the constitution adopted the above provision." "I am persuaded that such a provision (which was referred to in a statute) could only have made its way through the various forms of legislation, by clothing itself with the guise of a local measure, thus eluding the scrutiny which its own importance demands."b The act in question was an act entitled, "An act to enlarge the jurisdiction of the courts of general and special sessions of the peace, in and for the city and county of New York." The body of the act pro
a 1 Ambler, 22.
b People v. McCoun, 3 Parker Crim. R. 299, 300; per Harris, J.
vided bringing convictions for capital offences before the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of the State. This provision was declared to be void, because this general object was not expressed in the title. In another case, in the court of appeals, it was repeated, "that it was notorious, that the discrepancy between the headings, and the subjects of our laws was so frequent, that a constitutional provision was deemed necessary to guard against imposition upon a class of legislators, whose knowledge of bills was supposed to be gathered principally from the title." "The purpose of this constitutional provision was, that neither the members of the legislature nor the public should be misled by the title."c So in another case, under the provisions of an act entitled "An act to amend and consolidate the several acts relating to the city of Rochester," was adjudged to be a local act; but among its provisions, was one, to increase the number of directors which the common council of the city of Rochester was entitled to elect, to compose the board of directors of the Rochester and Genesee Valley Railroad company. The court said, "No human ingenuity would ever discover that subject from the title of the bill." We are clearly of opinion that, in regard to the law in question in this case, the subject, or object, is not embraced in its title, and must therefore be held to have been passed in violation of this provision of the constitution.d
The same provisions in substance, are found contained in the constitutions of the following States: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, California, Alabama, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New Jersey. The variations are slight and immaterial, some requiring the object, others—the subject of the act to be expressed in the title. Some declaring the whole enactment void, others-only so much thereof as is not so expressed.
The courts of these several States, with great uniformity have concurred in sustaining their constitutions, and in the condemna
a Mayor, &c. v. Colgate, 2 Kern. 146.
b The Sun Mutual Ins. Co. v. The Mayor, &c. 8 N. Y. R. 253.
c People v. Hills, 35 N. Y. 452, 3; People v. O'Brien, 38 N. Y. R. 195; People, ex rel. Failing v. Com. of Highways, 53 Barb. 70; People v. Allen, N. Y. Trans.
tion of this vicious character of legislation, in violation of such provisions. The Supreme Court of Michigan say: "The history and purpose of this constitutional provision, are too well understood to require any elucidation at our hands. The practice of bringing together into one bill, subjects diverse in their nature, and having no necessary connection, with a view to combine in their favor, the advocates of all, and thus secure the passage of several measures, no one of which could succeed upon its own merits, was one both corruptive of the legislator, and dangerous to the State. It was scarcely more so, however, than another practice, also intended to be remedied by this provision, by which, through dexterous management, clauses were inserted in bills, of which the titles gave no intimation, and their passage secured through legislative bodies, whose members were not generally aware of their intention and effect. This clause was not designed to embarrass legislation by multiplying the number of bills, but it was intended to put an end to vicious legislation, which was little better than a fraud on the public, and to require, that in every case, the proposed measure should stand upon its own merits.a This is the substance of all judicial interpretation of this provision. It is not within the scope of this chapter to bring up in array, the great number of cases which have been held to be obnoxious or otherwise, to this constitutional provision; nor to show the effect upon the act in whole, or in part, where in a local act, more than one subject or object was embraced in the bill, though not expressed in the title. The provisions are variant in different constitutions, and the adjudications have been accordingly variant.
a People v. Mahany, 13 Mich. R. 494.
NOTE 5.-In this State, in several recent cases, the courts have been strict, to sustain the integrity and spirit of this constitutional security. In an act of the legislature passed in 1851, chapter 389, entitled, "An act to amend and consolidate the several acts relating to the city of Rochester," was held first, to be a local act. In 1865, the legislature passed another act entitled, "An act to amend chapter 389, of the laws of 1851." By the former act, the common council of the city of Rochester were in a certain event authorized to choose four directors of the Rochester and Genessee Valley Railroad company. By the latter act, the said common council were authorized to choose seven directors in said company, instead of four. The title gave no intimation of such an object. It was held unconstitutional. People v. Hills, 35 N. Y. 449.
An act for the amendment of the charter of the city of New York was also held
In England, with a constitutional provision similar to our own, the Parliament, in avoiding the abuse above complained of, ran into an almost equal abuse by getting up bills, called hodge podge acts, in which all varieties of subjects of legislation was mixed up-in one act. The following is a specimen of the title to such an act passed in the 17 Geo. 11, ch. 40. "An act to continue the several laws therein mentioned, for preventing theft and rapine on the northern borders of England; for the more effectual punishing wicked and evil disposed persons going around in disguise, and doing injuries and violences to the persons and properties of his Majesty's subjects, and for the more speedy bringing the offenders to justice; for continuing two clauses; to prevent the cutting or breaking down the bank of any river or sea-bank; and to prevent the malicious cutting of hop-binds; and for the more effectual punishment of persons maliciously setting on fire any mine, pit, or delph of coal, or cannel coal; and of persons unlawfully hunting or taking any red or fallow deer in forests or chafes, or beating or wounding the keepers or other officers in forests, chafes, or parks; and for granting a liberty to carry sugars of the growth, produce, or manufacture of any of his Majesty's sugar colonies in America, from the said colonies directly to foreign ports, in ships built in Great Britain, and navigated according to law; and to explain two acts relating to the prosecution of offenders for embezzling naval stores, or stores of war; and to
to be a local act. In an act entitled, "An act to enable the board of supervisors of the city of New York to raise money by tax, for the use of the corporation of the city of New York, and in relation to the expenditure thereof, and to provide for the auditing and payment of unsettled claims against the city, and in relation to actions at law against said corporation." There was inserted a provision, amending the charter of the corporation, in relation to the term of office, and time of electing councilmen. This was held to be in violation of the constitution. People v. O'Brien, 38 N. Y. 193.
So, in an act, entitled "An act to regulate a highway in the town of Palatine," where the purview of the act, provided the reducing of the width of a particular highway, involving in effect, a donation of the land relinquished to the adjoining owner, it was held-that the object of the act was not stated in the title, and was unconstitutional. People v. Com. of Highways of Palatine, 53 Barb. 70; see also, Smith v. Mayor of New York, 34 How. Pr. R. 508; also, see cases not coming within the principle of this objection. People v. Stevens, 2 Abb. Pr. R. N. Y. 348; Matter of Tappen, 36 How. Pr. R. 390; Burnam v. Acton, 4 Abb. Pr. R. N. Y. 1; People v. McCann, 16 N. Y. 60.