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 examined its authority to review state legislature decisions.[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.[1]

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 Ariens, Michael. "Famous Cases Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386 (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.