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Opinion of the Court.
But it is said that it is not within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment to withhold from States the power of classification, and that if the law deals alike with all of a certain class it is not obnoxious to the charge of a denial of equal protection. While, as a general proposition, this is undeniably true, Hayes v. Missouri, 120 U. S. 68; Railroad Company v. Mackey, 127 U. S. 205; Walston v. Nevin, 128 U. S. 578; Bell's Gap Railroad v. Pennsylvania, 134 U. S. 232; Pacific Express Co. v. Seibert, 142 U. S. 339; Giozza v. Tiernan, 148 U. S. 657; Columbia Southern Railway v. Wright, 151 U. S. 470; Marchant v. Pennsylvania Railroad, 153 U. S. 380; St. Louis & San Francisco Railway v. Mathews, 165 U. S. 1; yet it is equally true that such classification cannot be made arbitrarily. The State may not say that all white men shall be subjected to the payment of the attorney's fees of parties successfully suing them and all black men not. It may not say that all men beyond a certain age shall be alone thus subjected, or all men possessed of a certain wealth. These are distinctions which do not furnish any proper basis for the attempted classification. That must always rest upon some difference which bears a reasonable and just relation to the act in respect to which the classification is proposed, and can never be made arbitrarily and without any such basis.
As well said by Black, J., in State v. Loomis, 115 Missouri, 307, 314, in which a statute making it a misdemeanor for any corporation engaged in manufacturing or mining to issue in payment of the wages of its employés any order, check, etc., payable otherwise than in lawful money of the United States, unless negotiable and redeemable at its face value in cash or in goods and supplies at the option of the holder at the store or other place of business of the corporation, was held class legislation and void: "Classification for legislative purposes must have some reasonable basis upon which to stand. It must be evident that differences which would serve for a classification for some purposes furnish no reason whatever for a classification for legislative purposes. The differences which will support class legislation must be such as in the nature of things furnish a reasonable basis for separate laws and regula
Opinion of the Court.
tions. Thus the legislature may fix the age at which persons shall be deemed competent to contract for themselves, but no one will claim that competency to contract can be made to depend upon stature or color of the hair. Such a classification for such a purpose would be arbitrary and a piece of legislative despotism, and therefore not the law of the land."
In Vanzant v. Waddel, 2 Yerger, 260, 270, Catron, J., (afterwards Mr. Justice Catron of this court,) speaking for the Supreme Court of Tennessee, declared: "Every partial or private law, which directly proposes to destroy or affect individual rights, or does the same thing by affording remedies leading to similar consequences, is unconstitutional and void. Were this otherwise, odious individuals and corporate bodies would be governed by one rule, and the mass of the community, who made the law, by another."
In Dibrell v. Morris' Heirs, Supreme Court of Tennessee, 15 S. W. Rep. 87, 95, Baxter, Special Judge, reviewing at some length cases of classification, closes the review with these words: "We conclude, upon a review of the cases referred to above, that, whether a statute be public or private, general or special, in form, if it attempts to create distinctions and classifications between the citizens of this State, the basis of such classification must be natural and not arbitrary."
In Bell's Gap Railroad v. Pennsylvania, 134 U. S. 232, the question was presented as to the power of the State to classify for purposes of taxation, and while it was conceded that a large discretion in these respects was vested in the various legislatures, the fact of a limit to such discretion was recognized, the court, by Mr. Justice Bradley, saying, on page 237: "All such regulations, and those of like character, so long as they proceed within reasonable limits and general usage, are within the discretion of the state legislature or the people of the State in framing their constitution. But clear and hostile discriminations against particular persons and classes, especially such as are of an unusual character, unknown to the practice of our governments, might be obnoxious to the constitutional prohibition."
It is, of course, proper that every debtor should pay his
Opinion of the Court.
debts, and there might be no impropriety in giving to every successful suitor attorney's fees. Such a provision would bear a reasonable relation to the delinquency of the debtor, and would certainly create no inequality of right or protection. But before a distinction can be made between debtors, and one be punished for a failure to pay his debts, while another is permitted to become in like manner delinquent without any punishment, there must be some difference in the obligation to pay, some reason why the duty of payment is more imperative in the one instance than in the other.
If it be said that this penalty is cast only upon corporations, that to them special privileges are granted, and therefore upon them special burdens may be imposed, it is a sufficient answer to say that the penalty is not imposed upon all corporations. The burden does not go with the privilege. Only railroads of all corporations are selected to bear this penalty. The rule of equality is ignored.
It may be said that certain corporations are chartered for charitable, educational or religious purposes, and abundant reason for not visiting them with a penalty for the non-payment of debts is found in the fact that their chartered privileges are not given for pecuniary profit. But the penalty is not imposed upon all business corporations, all chartered for the purpose of private gain. The banking corporations, the manufacturing corporations and others like them are exempt. Further, the penalty is imposed not upon all corporations charged with the quasi public duty of transportation, but only upon those charged with a particular form of that duty. So the classification is not based on any idea of special privileges by way of incorporation, nor of special privileges given thereby for purposes of private gain, nor even of such privileges granted for the discharge of one general class of public duties.
But if the classification is not based upon the idea of special privileges, can it be sustained upon the basis of the business in which the corporations to be punished are engaged? That such corporations may be classified for some purposes is unquestioned. The business in which they are
Opinion of the Court.
engaged is of a peculiarly dangerous nature, and the legisla ture, in the exercise of its police powers, may justly require many things to be done by them in order to secure life and property. Fencing of railroad tracks, use of safety couplers, and a multitude of other things easily suggest themselves. And any classification for the imposition of such special duties — duties arising out of the peculiar business in which they are engaged — is a just classification, and not one within the prohibition of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus it is frequently required that they fence their tracks, and as a penalty for a failure to fence double damages in case of loss are inflicted. Missouri Pacific Railway v. Humes, 115 U. S. 512. But this and all kindred cases proceed upon the theory of a special duty resting upon railroad corporations by reason of the business in which they are engaged-a duty not resting upon others; a duty which can be enforced by the legislature in any proper manner; and whether it enforces it by penalties in the way of fines coming to the State, or by double damages to a party injured, is immaterial. It is all done in the exercise of the police power of the State and with a view to enforce just and reasonable police regulations.
While this action is for stock killed, the recovery of attorney's fees cannot be sustained upon the theory just suggested. There is no fence law in Texas. The legislature of the State has not deemed it necessary for the protection of life or property to require railroads to fence their tracks, and as no duty is imposed, there can be no penalty for non-performance. Indeed, the statute does not proceed upon any such theory; it is broader in its scope. Its object is to compel the payment of the several classes of debts named, and was so regarded by the Supreme Court of the State.
But a mere statute to compel the payment of indebtedness does not come within the scope of police regulations. The hazardous business of railroading carries with it no special necessity for the prompt payment of debts. That is a duty resting upon all debtors, and while in certain cases there may be a peculiar obligation which may be enforced by penalties, yet nothing of that kind springs from the mere work of
Opinion of the Court.
railroad transportation. Statutes have been sustained giving special protection to the claims of laborers and mechanics, but no such idea underlies this legislation. It does not aim to protect the laborer or the mechanic alone, for its benefits are conferred upon every individual in the State, rich or poor, high or low, who has a claim of the character described. It is not a statute for the protection of particular classes of individuals supposed to need protection, but for the punishment of certain corporations on account of their delinquency.
Neither can it be sustained as a proper means of enforcing the payment of small debts and preventing any unnecessary litigation in respect to them, because it does not impose the penalty in all cases where the amount in controversy is within the limit named in the statute. Indeed, the statute arbitrarily singles out one class of debtors and punishes it for a failure to perform certain duties — duties which are equally obligatory upon all debtors; a punishment not visited by reason of the failure to comply with any proper police regulations, or for the protection of the laboring classes or to prevent litigation about trifling matters, or in consequence of any special corporate privileges bestowed by the State. Unless the legislature may arbitrarily select one corporation or one class of corporations, one individual or one class of individuals, and visit a penalty upon them which is not imposed upon others guilty of like delinquency this statute cannot be sustained.
But arbitrary selection can never be justified by calling it classification. The equal protection demanded by the Fourteenth Amendment forbids this. No language is more worthy of frequent and thoughtful consideration than these words of Mr. Justice Matthews, speaking for this court, in Yick Wo v. * Hopkins, 118 U. S. 356, 369: "When we consider the nature and the theory of our institutions of government, the principles upon which they are supposed to rest, and review the history of their development, we are constrained to conclude that they do not mean to leave room for the play and action of purely personal and arbitrary power." The first official action of this nation declared the foundation of government in these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident,