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WILSON v. NORTH CAROLINA.

decided: March 21, 1898.

WILSON
v.
NORTH CAROLINA.



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA.

Author: PECKHAM

[ 169 U.S. Page 591]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court on the motion to dismiss.

A consideration of the facts convinces us that the motion to dismiss this writ of error for lack of jurisdiction ought to be granted.

Under the statute of 1891, creating the railroad commission and providing for the appointment, suspension and removal of the officers of such commission, the act of the Governor in suspending the plaintiff in error was not a finality. Before there could be any removal, the fact of suspension was to be reported to the next legislature by the Governor, and unless that body removed the officer the effect was to reinstate him in office, and he then became entitled to the salary during the time of his suspension.

[ 169 U.S. Page 592]

     In speaking of the statute and the purpose of this particular provision the Supreme Court of the State said: "The duty of suspension was imposed upon the Governor from the highest motives of public policy to prevent the danger to the public interests which might arise from leaving such great powers and responsibilities in the hands of men legally disqualified. To leave them in full charge of their office until the next biennial session of the legislature, or pending litigation which might be continued for years, would destroy the very object of the law. As the Governor was, therefore, by the very letter and spirit of the law, required to act and act promptly, necessarily upon his own findings of fact, we are compelled to hold that such official action was, under the circumstances, due process of law. Even if it were proper, the Governor would have no power to direct an issue like a chancellor."

The highest court of the State has held that this statute was not a violation of the constitution of the State; that the hearing before the Governor was sufficient; that the office was substantially an administrative one, although the commission was designated, by a statute subsequent to that which created it, a court of record; that the officer taking office under the statute was bound to take it on the terms provided for therein; that he was lawfully suspended from office; and that he was not entitled to a trial by jury upon the hearing of this case in the trial court. As a result the court held that the defendant had not been deprived of his property without due process of law, nor had he been denied the equal protection of the laws.

The controversy relates exclusively to the title to a state office, created by a statute of the State, and to the rights of one who was elected to the office so created. Those rights are to be measured by the statute and by the constitution of the State, excepting in so far as they may be protected by any provision of the Federal Constitution.

Authorities are not required to support the general proposition that in the consideration of the constitution or laws of a State this court follows the construction given to those instruments by the highest court of the State. The exceptions to

[ 169 U.S. Page 593]

     this rule do not embrace the case now before us. We are, therefore, concluded by the decision of the Supreme Court of North Carolina as to the proper construction of the statute itself, and that as construed it does not violate the constitution of the State.

The only question for us to review is whether the State, through the action of its Governor and judiciary, has deprived the plaintiff in error of his property without due process of law, or denied to him the equal protection of the laws.

We are of opinion the plaintiff in error was not deprived of any right guaranteed to him by the Federal Constitution, by reason of the proceedings before the Governor under the statute above ...


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