Barnett Bank of Marion Cty., N. A. v. Nelson, 517 U.S. 25, 11 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 25 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

no "indication" that Congress intended to subject that power to local restriction. Thus, the Court's discussion in Franklin Nat. Bank, the holding of that case, and the other precedent we have cited above, strongly argue for a similar interpretation here—a broad interpretation of the word "may" that does not condition federal permission upon that of the State.

Finally, Florida and its supporters challenge this interpretation by arguing that special circumstances surrounding the enactment of the Federal Statute nonetheless demonstrate Congress' intent to grant only a limited permission (subject to state approval). They point to a letter to Congress written by the Comptroller of the Currency in 1916. The Comptroller attached a draft of what became the Federal Statute, and the letter explains to Congress why the Comptroller wants Congress to enact his proposal. The letter says that, since 1900, many small town national banks had failed; that some States had authorized small town state banks to sell insurance; that providing small town national banks with authority to sell insurance would help them financially; and that doing so would also improve their competitive position vis-à-vis state banks. The relevant language in the letter (somewhat abridged) reads as follows:

"[Since 1900, of 3,084 small national banks, 438] have either failed or gone into liquidation. . . . [T]here are many banks located in [small towns] . . . where the small deposits which the banks receive may make it somewhat difficult [to earn] . . . a satisfactory return . . . .

"For some time I have been giving careful consideration to the question as to how the powers of these small national banks might be enlarged so as to provide them with additional sources of revenue and place them in a position where they could better compete with local State banks and trust companies which are sometimes


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