Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 14 (1995)

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Opinion of the Court

choose one representative example from a multitude: In Bates v. Kimball, 2 Chipman 77 (Vt. 1824), a special Act of the Vermont Legislature authorized a party to appeal from the judgment of a court even though, under the general law, the time for appeal had expired. The court, noting that the unappealed judgment had become final, set itself the question "Have the Legislature power to vacate or annul an existing judgment between party and party?" Id., at 83. The answer was emphatic: "The necessity of a distinct and separate existence of the three great departments of government . . . had been proclaimed and enforced by . . . Blackstone, Jefferson and Madison," and had been "sanctioned by the people of the United States, by being adopted in terms more or less explicit, into all their written constitutions." Id., at 84. The power to annul a final judgment, the court held (citing Hayburn's Case, 2 Dall., at 410), was "an assumption of Judicial power," and therefore forbidden. Bates v. Kimball, supra, at 90. For other examples, see Merrill v. Sher-burne, 1 N. H. 199 (1818) (legislature may not vacate a final judgment and grant a new trial); Lewis v. Webb, 3 Greenleaf 299 (Me. 1825) (same); T. Cooley, Constitutional Limitations 95-96 (1868) (collecting cases); J. Sutherland, Statutory Construction 18-19 (J. Lewis ed. 1904) (same).

By the middle of the 19th century, the constitutional equilibrium created by the separation of the legislative power to make general law from the judicial power to apply that law in particular cases was so well understood and accepted that it could survive even Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393 (1857). In his First Inaugural Address, President Lincoln explained why the political branches could not, and need not, interfere with even that infamous judgment:

"I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case, upon the parties to a suit, as to the object of that suit . . . . And while it is obviously possible that

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