Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 31 (1995)

Page:   Index   Previous  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  Next

Cite as: 514 U. S. 211 (1995)

Breyer, J., concurring in judgment

ticle I to reopen an otherwise closed court judgment. And the statutory provision here at issue, 27A(b), violates a basic "separation-of-powers" principle—one intended to protect individual liberty. Three features of this law—its exclusively retroactive effect, its application to a limited number of individuals, and its reopening of closed judgments— taken together, show that Congress here impermissibly tried to apply, as well as make, the law. Hence, 27A(b) falls outside the scope of Article I. But, it is far less clear, and unnecessary for the purposes of this case to decide, that separation of powers "is violated" whenever an "individual final judgment is legislatively rescinded" or that it is "violated 40 times over when 40 final judgments are legislatively dissolved." See ante, at 228. I therefore write separately.

The majority provides strong historical evidence that Congress lacks the power simply to reopen, and to revise, final judgments in individual cases. See ante, at 219-222. The Framers would have hesitated to lodge in the Legislature both that kind of power and the power to enact general laws, as part of their effort to avoid the "despotic government" that accompanies the "accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands." The Federalist No. 47, p. 241 (J. Gideon ed. 1831) (J. Madison); id., No. 48, at 249 (quoting T. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia). For one thing, the authoritative application of a general law to a particular case by an independent judge, rather than by the legislature itself, provides an assurance that even an unfair law at least will be applied evenhandedly according to its terms. See, e. g., 1 Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws 174 (T. Nugent transl. 1886) (describing one objective of the "separation of powers" as preventing "the same monarch or senate," having "enact[ed] tyrannical laws" from "execut[ing] them in a tyrannical manner"); W. Gwyn, The Meaning of the Separation of Powers 42-43, 104-106 (1965) (discussing historically relevant sources that explain one purpose of separation of powers as helping to assure an "impartial rule of

241

Page:   Index   Previous  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007