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MISSOURI v. MAY

May 2, 1904

MISSOURI, KANSAS AND TEXAS RAILWAY COMPANY
v.
MAY



ERROR TO THE COUNTY COURT OF BELL COUNTY, STATE OF TEXAS

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: Holmes

[ 194 U.S. Page 268]

 MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.

This is a action to recover a penalty of twenty-five dollars,

[ 194 U.S. Page 269]

     brought by the owner of a farm contiguous to the railroad of the plaintiff in error, on the ground that the latter has allowed Johnson grass to mature and go to seed upon its road. The penalty is given to contiguous owners by a Texas statute of 1901, ch. 117, directed solely against railroad companies for permitting such grass or Russian thistle to go to seed upon their right of way, subject, however, to the condition that the plaintiff has not done the same thing. The case is brought here on the ground that the statute is contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

It is admitted that Johnson grass is a menace to crops, that it is propagated only by seed, and that a general regulation of it for the protection of farming would be valid. It is admitted also that legislation may be directed against a class when any fair ground for the discrimination exists. But it is said that this particular subjection of railroad companies to a liability not imposed on owners of land on which Johnson grass may grow, is so arbitrary as to amount to a denial of the equal protection of the laws. There is no dispute about general principles. The question is whether this case lies on one side or the other of a line which has to be worked out between cases differing only in degree. With regard to the manner in which such a question should be approached, it is obvious that the legislature is the only judge of the policy of a proposed discrimination. The principle is similar to that which is established with regard to a decision of Congress that certain means are necessary and proper to carry out one of its express powers. McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316. When a state legislature has declared that in its opinion policy requires a certain measure, its action should not be disturbed by the courts under the Fourteenth Amendment, unless they can see clearly that there is no fair reason for the law that would not require with equal force its extension to others whom it leaves untouched.

Approaching the question in this way we feel unable to say that the law before us may not have been justified by local

[ 194 U.S. Page 270]

     conditions. It would have been more obviously fair to extend the regulation at least to highways. But it may have been found, for all that we know, that the seed of Johnson grass is dropped from the cars in such quantities as to cause special trouble. It may be that the neglected strips occupied by railroads afford a ground where noxious weeds especially flourish, and that whereas self-interest leads the owners of farms to keep down pests, the railroad companies have done nothing in a matter which concerns their neighbors only. Other reasons may be imagined. Great constitutional provisions must be administered with caution. Some play must be allowed for the joints of the machine, and it must be remembered that legislatures are ultimate guardians of the liberties and welfare of the people in quite as great a degree as the courts.

Judgment affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE BREWER concurs in the ...


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