Supreme Court’s Construction of the Federal Constitution in 1920-1921

Cases Arising under the Constitution or Laws of the United States. The question whether a case presents a “federal question,” so called, is raised in a number of the controversies in which the asserted federal question was considered and answered. Only a few of these instances need special mention. In Hartford Life Ins. Co. v. Blincoe,3 after reversal by the Supreme Court of a state judgment against a defendant, a second judgment was rendered by the state court on different grounds. These included holding an assessment on an insurance policy to be void for the inclusion of a state tax not legally due. On the second advent of the case to the Supreme Court if was held that no federal question was presented by the state decision as to the amount of the tax or on the issue whether the company was doing business on the assessment or the premium plan. In Missouri Pacific Ry. Co. v. McGrew Coal Co. the refusal of a state court, in a suit founded on a state longand short-haul statute, to dismiss the action of the shipper because he did not pay the freight and was not damaged, was held to raise no substantial federal question, but only a question of state law which the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to review. In Minneapolis, St. P. & S. S. M. Ry. Co. v. Washbur;. Coal Co.5 a state judgment denying a carrier an action against a shipper for freight in excess of the statutory rate subsequently declared confiscatory was affirmed on the theory that it rested on grounds of contract law which raised no federal question so long as the state court did not sustain the statutory rate as valid. In Bullock v. Florida” a state decision that a railroad may not abandon operations without the consent of the state was held to raise a federal question, but the issue whether a state would be bound by a foreclosure decree was declared to be purely a question of local law. In Marshall v. New York7 the issue whether a lien for taxes given by the common law of New York is a prerogative right or merely a rule of administration was held to be one of local law on which the federal courts will accept as conclusive the decisions of the New York courts. On the other hand, Missouri Pacific Ry. Co. v. Ault8 held that in an action against the director general of railroads in which the Act of Congress permitting the application of state police laws was construed not to include laws imposing a penalty, the question whether a state provision is penal or compensatory is one of federal law and not of state law.