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decided: October 22, 1888.



Author: Field

[ 128 U.S. Page 97]

 MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.

A statute of Alabama which took effect on the first of June, 1887, "for the protection of the travelling public against accidents caused by color blindness and defective vision," declares that all persons afflicted with color blindness and loss of visual power to the extent therein defined are "disqualified from serving on railroad lines within the State in the capacity of locomotive engineer, fireman, train conductor, brakeman, station agent, switchman, flagman, gate tender, or signal man, or in any other position which requires the use or discrimination of form or color signals," and makes it a misdemeanor punishable by fine of not less than ten nor more than fifty dollars for each offence, for a person to serve in any of the capacities mentioned without having obtained a certificate of fitness for his position in accordance with the provisions of the act. It provides for the appointment by the governor of a suitable number of qualified medical men throughout the State to carry the law into effect; and for the examination by them of persons to be employed in any of the capacities mentioned; prescribes rules to govern the action of the examiners, and allows them a fee of three dollars for the examination of each person. It declares that re-examinations shall be made once in every five years, and whenever sickness, or fever, or accidents, calculated to affect the visual organs have occurred to the parties, or a majority of the board may direct; that the examinations and re-examinations shall be made at the expense of the railroad companies; and that it shall be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than fifty nor more than five hundred dollars for each offence, for any such company to employ a person in any of the capacities mentioned, who does not possess a certificate of fitness therefor from the examiners in so far as color blindness and the visual organs are concerned.

The defendant, The Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway Company, is a corporation created under the laws of

[ 128 U.S. Page 98]

     Tennessee, and runs its trains from Nashville in that State to various points in other States, twenty-four miles of its line being in Alabama, two miles in Georgia, seven in Kentucky, and four hundred and sixty-four in Tennessee.

On the 2d of August, 1887, one James Moore was employed by the company as a train conductor on its road, and acted in that capacity, in the county of Jackson, in Alabama, without having obtained a certificate of his fitness so far as color blindness and visual powers were concerned, in accordance with the law of that State. For this employment the company was indicted in the Circuit Court of the State for Jackson County, under the statute mentioned, and on its plea of not guilty was convicted, and fined fifty dollars. On appeal to the Supreme Court of the State the judgment was affirmed, and to review it the case is brought on error to this court.

It was contended in the court below, among other things, that the statute of Alabama was repugnant to the power vested in Congress to regulate commerce among the States, and that it violated the clause of the Fifth Amendment which declares that no person shall be deprived of his property without due process of law. The same positions are urged in this court, with the further position that the statute is in conflict with the clause in the third article of the Constitution, which provides that the trials of all crimes shall be held in the State where they were committed.

The first question thus presented is covered by the decision of this court rendered at the last term in Smith v. Alabama, 124 U.S. 465. In that case the law adjudged to be valid required as a condition for a person to act as an engineer of a railroad train in that State, that he should be examined as to his qualifications by a board appointed for that purpose, and licensed if satisfied as to his qualifications, and made it a misdemeanor for any one to act as engineer who violated its provisions. The act now under consideration only requires an examination and license of parties, to be employed on railroads in certain specified capacities, with reference to one particular qualification, that relating to his visual organs;

[ 128 U.S. Page 99]

     but this limitation does not affect the application of the decision. If the State could lawfully require an examination as to the general fitness of a person to be employed on a railway, it could of course lawfully require an examination as to his fitness in some one particular. Color blindness is a defect of a vital character in railway employes in the various capacities mentioned. Ready and accurate perception by them of colors, and discrimination between them, are essential to safety of the trains, and, of course, of the passengers and property they carry. It is generally by signals of different colors, to each of which a separate and distinct meaning is attached, that the movement of trains is directed. Their starting, their stopping, their speed, the condition of switches, the approach of other trains, and the tracks in such case which each should take, are governed by them. Defects of vision in such cases on the part of any one employed may lead to fatal results. Color blindness, by which is meant either an imperfect perception of colors, or an inability to recognize them at all, or to distinguish between colors, or between some of them, is a defect much more common than is generally supposed. Medical treatises of recognized merit on the subject represent as the result of extended examinations that a fraction over four per cent of males are color blind. With some the defect is congenital, with others brought on by occupations in which they have been engaged, or by vicious habits in the use of liquors or food in which they have indulged. It presents itself in a great variety of forms, from an imperfect perception of colors to absolute inability to recognize them at all.

Such being the proportion of males thus affected, it is a matter of the greatest importance to safe railroad transportation of persons and property that strict examination be made as to the existence of this defect in persons seeking employment on railroads in any of the capacities mentioned.

It is conceded that the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce is plenary; that, as incident to it, Congress may legislate as to the qualifications, duties, and liabilities of employes and others on railway trains engaged in that ...

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