Head Money Cases (Edye v. Robertson), 112 U.S. 580; 5 S. Ct. 247; 28 L.Ed. 798 (1884)

Head Money Cases (Edye v. Robertson), 112 U.S. 580; 5 S. Ct. 247; 28 L. Ed. 798 (1884)

Facts—In 1882 Congress passed an act providing that a duty of fifty cents should be collected for each and every passenger who was not a citizen of the United States, coming from a foreign port to a U.S. port. Individuals and steamship companies brought suit against the collector of customs at New York, W. H. Robertson, for the recovery of the sums of money collected. The act was challenged on the grounds that it violated numerous treaties of our government with friendly nations.

Question—Is this act void because of conflict with a treaty?


ReasonsJ. Miller (9–0). A treaty is a compact between independent nations, which depends for its enforcement upon the interest and honor of the governments that are parties to the treaty. Treaties that regulate the mutual rights of citizens and subjects of the contracting nations are in the same cat- egory as acts of Congress. When these rights are of such a nature as to be enforced by a court of justice, the court resorts to the treaty as it would to a statute. However, the Constitution gives a treaty no superiority over an act of Congress. “In short, we are of the opinion, that, so far as a treaty made by the United States with a foreign nation can become the subject of judicial cognizance in the courts of this country, it is subject to such acts as Congress may pass for its enforcement, modification or repeal.”

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