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.
submit your Case Brief as an attachment to an email sent to:
Student Name: Amanda Hinshaw
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.
Brief: Calder v. Bull (1798)
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.
The counsel for the plaintiff said that granting a
new hearing in the case is an ex post facto law and prohibited by the
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,