CourtSpeak: Calder v. Bull Ex Post Facto Law Case (1798)

Decisions Read more from
Chapter The Jay, Rutledge, and Ellsworth Courts (1789–1800)

Justice Samuel Chase (unanimous ruling): “I will state what laws I consider ex post facto laws, within the words and the intent of the prohibition. 1st. Every law that makes an action, done before the passing of the law, and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action. 2nd. Every law that aggravates a crime, or makes it greater than it was, when committed. 3rd. Every law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when announced. 4th. Every law that alters the legal rules of evidence, and receives less, or different, testimony, than the law required at the time of the commission of the offence, in order to convict the offender.”

Justice William Paterson: “The words ex post facto, when applied to a law, have a technical meaning, and, in legal phraseology, refer to crimes, pains, and penalties…. Here the meaning, annexed to the terms ex post facto laws, unquestionably refers to crimes, and nothing else.”

Justice James Iredell: “The policy, the reason and humanity, of the prohibition, do not, I repeat, extend to civil cases, to cases that merely affect the private property of citizens. Some of the most necessary and important acts of Legislation are, on the contrary, founded upon the principle, that private rights must yield to public exigencies.”

Justice William Cushing: “The case appears to me to be clear of all difficulty, taken either way. If the act is a judicial act, it is not touched by the Federal Constitution; and, if it is a legislative act, it is maintained and justified by the ancient and uniform practice of the state of Connecticut.”


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