Calder v Bull

  Calder v. Bull (1798)

Submit a brief of the above case in the text box below. Your case brief should observe the case brief format found linked on the Constitutional Law page of this web site. The Rossum text already offers a short brief (the italicized text preceding the case excerpt) It offers a place to begin by identifying some of the core issues a brief must address.
Be certain that the brief you submit for class is your own work, and is clearly distinct from Rossum’s brief.
A brief should be between 300-600 words. For our purposes, your brief should summarize in separate paragraphs:
• the facts of the case (what do the parties allege?)
• the core constitutional issue(s)
• the ruling of the Court
• the majority opinion
• the concurring opinion(s), if any
• the dissenting opinion(s), if any
Your written brief must be submitted by the date indicated by the Work Schedule.
The biggest problem you should encounter will be how to keep your brief to only 600 words.


Please submit your Case Brief as an attachment to an email sent to:


Student Name: Amanda Hinshaw

Date: 02-03-09

Brief: Calder v. Bull

      The facts of the case revolve around a disputed will.  The parties involved in the case were Mr. Calder, Mr. Bull, and Mrs. Bull.  Mrs. and Mr. Bull were named the benefactors in Norman Morrison’s will.  After a probate court in the state of Connecticut denied Mrs. and Mr. Bull their inheritance, they began an appeal process to reverse the decision.  Their action was taken more than eighteen months after the Connecticut court denied their inheritance and as such was not accepted because of a Connecticut law prohibiting appeals that are attempted after eighteen months from the original decision.  Mrs. and Mr. Bull went to the state’s legislature and got the restriction changed.  They then appealed the original decision and won.  Mr. Calder had received the inheritance when the Bull’s were denied and appealed the reversed decision to the United States Supreme Court.

      The core constitutional issue in this case is the ex post facto clause.  This clause prohibits the enactment of ex post facto laws.  An ex post facto law is a law that makes an action criminal after the fact, in other words punishing something when it was not illegal when it was done.  Under this clause, the change in legislation should have affected all appeals after the change.  It became an ex post facto law because it was applied to an appeal that occurred before the change in legislation.

      The United States Supreme Court heard Mr. Calder’s appeal and decided against Mr. Calder.  The court ruled in favor of Mrs. and Mr. Bull stating that the Connecticut courts application of the changed legislation of Connecticut law to Mrs. and Mr. Bull’s appeal was not a violation of the United States Constitution’s ex post facto clause.

      The majority opinion in this case was that there was a difference between an individual’s private or personal rights and his or her criminal rights.  The majority of the court believed that the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution refers to criminal not personal contract rights.  Justice Chase pointed out that every ex post facto law is retrospective, but every retrospective law is not always ex post facto.  In this particular case the retrospective legislation is not ex post facto because it does not deal with criminal rights.  The importance of this case in relation to judicial power revolves around interpretation.  The court did not create new law or disregard old law.  Instead they clarified a term used in the Constitution.  It also relates to the self-imposed restriction of ruling on general law instead of constitutional issue.  The court did not rule based on whether the law was constitutional or not.  They ruled based on whether the issue was addressed by the ex post facto clause.  The majority opinion was that the ex post facto clause was to protect criminal not contract rights.

      Justice James Iredell provided a concurring opinion.  He argued that while Justice Chase claimed the ability of a state legislature to correct state laws was not the issue, that was in fact the issue the court must address.  Justice Iredell argued that if the state legislature was acting within the authority given to them, their laws would be valid.  However, if the state legislature went outside that authority those laws would be invalid.  In such cases, he argued, it is the courts unpleasant responsibility to declare such law invalid.


Angela Pait    



                                    January 31, 2009



Brief: Calder v. Bull (1798)


Procedural History:

 The courts passed a resolution which set aside a decree of the Court of Probate for March, 1793, disapproving the will of N.M. and refusing to record the will.


Legal Issue

The counsel for the plaintiff said that granting a new hearing in the case is an ex post facto law and prohibited by the Constitution.

By granting a new hearing is it an ex post facto law because of the law on time frame of 18 mo.



Ex post facto is a Latin term meaning "from a thing done afterward." Ex post facto often refers to a law that applies retroactively, thereby criminalizing conduct that was legal when originally performed. The U.S. Constitution prohibits ex post facto laws. However, the Supreme Court has held that that the prohibition of retroactive laws applies only to criminal, not civil, laws.

This is case is considered civil and not criminal.


Statement of Rule

 To revise a decision of one of the inferior courts to direct a new hearing of the case by the same court of probate that passed the decree against the will of Normand Morrison.  The existing law of Connecticut, a right to recover certain property had vested in Calder and wife. The sole inquiry is whether this resolution or law of Connecticut, having such operation, is an ex post facto law within the prohibition of the federal Constitution.



The Constitution of the United States, Article I, section 9, prohibits the Legislature of the United States from passing any ex post facto law, and in section 10 that no state shall pass any ex post facto law."



Reasoning of the courts said it ex post facto did not extend to civil cases, to cases that merely affect the private property of citizens.




  The act or resolution of the Legislature of Connecticut cannot be regarded as an ex post facto law.  The true construction of the prohibition extends to criminal, not to civil, cases.