Barron ex rel. Tiernan v. Mayor of Baltimore: The Limits of the Bill of RightsHistorical
In Barron ex rel. Tiernan v. Mayor of Baltimore, 7 Pet. 243 (1833), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Bill of Rights placed limits on the national government and not on state governments.
The Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Marshall, specifically found that the City of Baltimore was not bound by the Fifth Amendment’s requirement that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation.
The Facts of the Case
The City of Baltimore diverted several streams during a construction project that involved grading and paving the city’s streets. As a result of the changed water flow, large masses of sand and earth were deposited in front of a commercial wharf owned by John Barron. The water became so shallow that it ceased to be useful for vessels, and Barron lost significant income. He filed suit against the City of Baltimore, seeking financial compensation for his losses under the Fifth Amendment.
The Court’s Decision
In a unanimous decision, the Court held that the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, “contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the State governments.” Accordingly, the justices concluded that the Court could not apply them to the case.
In explaining the Court’s decision, Chief Justice Marshall highlighted that the text of the Bill of Rights does not state that it also restricts state governments. However, other provisions of the Constitution do address state activity, citing the following example:
The third clause (of Section 9), for example, declares that “no bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.” No language can be more general; yet the demonstration is complete that it applies solely to the government of the United States… the succeeding section, the avowed purpose of which is to restrain state legislation… declares that “no state shall pass any bill of attainder or ex post facto law.” This provision, then, of the ninth section, however comprehensive its language, contains no restriction on state legislation.
While the Court’s decision in Barron was never expressly overruled, the Supreme Court has relied on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause to apply many of the protections set forth in the Bill of Rights to the states, including the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
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- Establishment ClauseFree Exercise Clause
- Freedom of Speech
- Freedoms of Press
- Freedom of Assembly, and Petitition
- The Right to Bear Arms
- Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
- Due Process
- Eminent Domain
- Rights of Criminal Defendants
Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.