Missouri v. Holland – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416, 40 S. Ct. 382, 64 L. Ed. 641 (1920).
President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed a treaty between the United States and Great Britain that provided for the protection of several species of migratory bird. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was later enacted to give effect to the convention. The Act prohibited the killing, capturing, or selling of any birds included in the terms of the treaty.
The State of Missouri brought this lawsuit to prevent Holland (D), a game warden under the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, from enforcing the Act. Missouri contended that the law was an unconstitutional interference with the state’s Tenth Amendment rights and an invasion of the state’s sovereign rights.
The District Court sustained a motion to dismiss by the United States, holding that the Act was constitutional. The state of Missouri appealed.
- Does Congress have the power to enact a statute in order to give effect to a treaty authorized under the Executive’s treaty power (Article II Section 2), if that statute standing alone would be an unconstitutional interference with states’ rights under the Tenth Amendment?
Holding and Rule of Law (Holmes)
- Yes. Congress has the power to give effect to a treaty authorized under the Executive’s treaty power (Article II Section 2) through legislation, even if that legislation standing alone would be an unconstitutional interference with States’ rights under the Tenth Amendment.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is valid under Article I Section 8 of the Constitution as a necessary and proper means of effectuating the treaty. The treaty and statute do not infringe property rights or sovereign powers respecting such birds reserved to the States by the Tenth Amendment.
The treaty-making power is not limited to what may be done by an unaided act of Congress with respect to rights reserved to the States. A treaty becomes the supreme law of the land and preempts those areas typically reserved to the States by the Constitution.
Congress can constitutionally enact a statute to enforce a treaty even if the statute by itself is unconstitutional. The Tenth Amendment is irrelevant here because the power to make treaties is delegated expressly. Under the Constitution, the President has the power to make treaties, which then become part of the supreme law of the land. If a treaty is valid, Congress has the power to enact legislation that is a necessary and proper means to enforce the treaty under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Acts of Congress are the supreme law of the land when made in pursuance of the Constitution.
There are qualifications to the treaty-making power, but they must be determined by looking at the facts of each case. There are situations that require national action which an act of Congress could not deal with, but which a treaty enforced with a congressional act could. In these cases, joint action under international law is the best solution. Because neither Missouri nor any other state acting alone have the power to adequately control the problem connected with the migratory birds, this is a situation which requiring national action.
See McCulloch v. Maryland for a constitutional law case brief in which the Supreme Court held that Congress had the power to incorporate a bank by virtue of the Necessary and Proper Clause of Article I.