Calder v. Bull

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Calder v. Bull
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 8, 1798
Decided August 8, 1798
Full case name Calder et Wife v. Bull et Wife
Citations 3 U.S. 386 (more)
3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386; 1 L. Ed. 648; 1798 U.S. LEXIS 148
Prior history In error from the State of Connecticut
Ex post facto clause applies to criminal, not civil cases
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Chase, joined by Ellsworth, Wilson, Cushing, Paterson
Concurrence Paterson
Concurrence Iredell

Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. 386 (1798),[1] is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court decided four important points of constitutional law.

First that the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution only applies to criminal acts, and then only if the law does one of four things: "1st. Every law that makes an action done before the passing of the law, and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action. 2d. Every law that aggravates a crime, makes it greater than it was, when committed. 3d. Every law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed. 4th. Every law that alters the legal rules of evidence, and receives less, or different, testimony, than the law required at the time of the commission of the offence, in order to convict the offender."[1] The decision restates this later as laws "that create, or aggregate, the crime; or encrease(sic) the punishment, or change the rules of evidence, for the purpose of conviction." (italics in original)[1]

Second, the Supreme Court said it had no authority to decide if an act of a state legislature violated that state's constitution. The Supreme Court decision says, "this court has no jurisdiction to determine that any law of any state Legislature, contrary to the Constitution of such state is void."[1]

Third, the Supreme Court said that "that no man should be compelled to do what the laws do not require; nor to refrain from acts which the laws permit."(italics in original)[1]

Fourth, the Supreme Court decided that this specific act of the Conneticut legislature, and any other state legislative act, is not a violation of the ex post facto clause if "there is no fact done by Bull and wife, Plaintiff's in Error, that is in any manner affected by the law or resolution of Connecticut: It does not concern, or relate to, any act done by them."(italics in original)[1]


The Connecticut legislature ordered a new trial in a court case about the contents of a will, overruling an earlier court ruling. In a unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court held that the legislature's actions did not violate the ex post facto law in article 1, section 10 of the Constitution, which states:

An ex post facto law or retroactive law, is a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of acts committed or the legal status of facts and relationships that existed prior to the enactment of the law.[2]

The holding in this case still remains good law: the ex post facto provision of the Constitution applies solely to criminal cases, not civil cases.[3]

Legal arguments[edit]

In this case, the participating Supreme Court judges were: William Cushing, James Iredell, William Paterson and Samuel Chase.

Justice Samuel Chase argued that the government has no authority to interfere with an individual's rights, and "the general principles of law and reason" forbid the legislature from interfering. He then explained that judges ought to rely on natural law when making their decisions:

Justice James Iredell stated that courts cannot strike down statutes based only upon principles of natural justice:

Iredell affirmed the ability of the Supreme Court to review legislative acts, but based on something more than principles of natural justice:


Justice William Cushing agreed with the judgement, saying that:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. 386, 1 L. Ed. 648, 1 L. Ed. 2d 648 (1798).
  2. ^ David P, Currie (1992). The Constitution in the Supreme Court: The First Hundred Years, 1789–1888. University of Chicago Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-226-13109-2. 
  3. ^ Ariens, Michael. "Famous Cases Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386 (1798)".