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Opinion of the Court.
The plaintiff in error contends that the refusal to amend the record, so as to show that he was not present in person or by counsel in the Supreme Court of Illinois, at the time it affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and fixed the day for carrying that judgment into execution, was a denial to him of that equal protection of the laws which is accorded by the Constitution of the United States to all persons within the jurisdiction of the respective States; also, that such action upon the part of the court below was inconsistent with “due
process of law."
Assuming that these constitutional questions were so raised, in the court below, as to authorize them to be considered here, we are of opinion that no right, secured to the plaintiff in error by the Constitution of the United States, was violated by the refusal of the Supreme Court of Illinois to allow the proposed amendment of its record. We take, as is our duty, the law of Illinois to be as declared by its highest court, that amendments of the record of a court, in derogation of its final judgment, are not permitted in that State after the expiration of the term at which the judgment was rendered. That law is applicable to all persons within the jurisdiction of the State, and its enforcement against the plaintiff in error cannot, therefore, be said to be a denial to him by the State of the equal protection of the laws. Neither discussion nor citation of authorities is required to support a proposition so manifestly correct.
When the original case was before this court, Chief Justice Waite said: “The objection that the defendants were not actually present in the Supreme Court of the State at the time sentence was pronounced cannot be made on the record as it now stands, because on its face it shows that they were present. If this is not in accordance with the fact, the record must be corrected below, not here. It will be time enough to consider whether the objection presents a Federal question when the correction has been made." Spies v. Illinois, 123 U. S. 131, 182. These observations were adverted to in argument, but we do not perceive that they have any bearing on the questions now raised. The Chief Justice only meant to
Opinion of the Court.
say that this court could not amend the record, but if amended by the court below, the question would still remain whether the objection referred to could be considered by this court.
Equally without merit is the suggestion that the action of the court below in disposing of the writ of error to the Criminal Court of Cook County, in the absence of the accused, was not in conformity to “due process of law.” This question was determined in Schwab v. Berggren, just decided, and we do not deem it necessary to add anything to what is there said.
No. 143. Argued and submitted January 7, 1892. – Decided February 29, 1892.
The act of February 26, 1885, “to prohibit the importation and migration
of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor in the United States, its Territories, and the District of Columbia," 23 Stat. 332, c. 164, does not apply to a contract between an alien, residing out of the United States, and a religious society incorporated under the laws of a State, whereby he engages to remove to the United States and to enter into the service of the society as its rector or minister.
The case is stated in the opinion.
Mr. Seaman Miller for plaintiff in error.
Mr. Assistant Attorney General Maury for defendant in error submitted on his brief.
MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.
Plaintiff in error is a corporation, duly organized and incorporated as a religious society under the laws of the State of New York. E. Walpole Warren was, prior to September,
Opinion 'of the Court.
1887, an alien residing in England. In that month the plaintiff in error made a contract with him, by which he was to remove to the city of New York and enter into its service as rector and pastor; and in pursuance of such contract, Warren did so remove and enter upon such service. It is claimed by the United States that this contract on the part of the plaintiff in error was forbidden by the act of February 26, 1885, 23 Stat. 332, c. 164, and an action was commenced to recover the penalty prescribed by that act. The Circuit Court held that the contract was within the prohibition of the statute, and rendered judgment accordingly, (36 Fed. Rep. 303;) and the single question presented for our determination is whether it erred in that conclusion.
The first section describes the act forbidden, and is in these words :
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the passage of this act it shall be unlawful for any person, company, partnership, or corporation, in any manner whatsoever, to prepay the transportation, or in any way assist or encourage the importation or migration of any alien or aliens, any foreigner or foreigners, into the United States, its Territories, or the District of Columbia, under contract or agreement, parol or special, express or implied, made previous to the importation or migration of such alien or aliens, foreigner or foreigners, to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States, its Territories, or the District of Columbia.”
It must be conceded that the act of the corporation is within the letter of this section, for the relation of rector to his church is one of service, and implies labor on the one side with compensation on the other. Not only are the general words labor and service both used, but also, as it were to guard against any narrow interpretation and emphasize a breadth of meaning, to them is added “ of any kind ;” and, further, as noticed by the Circuit Judge in his opinion, the fifth section, which makes specific exceptions, among them professional actors, artists, lecturers, singers and domestic
Opinion of the Court.
servants, strengthens the idea that every other kind of labor and service was intended to be reached by the first section. While there is great force to this reasoning, we cannot think Congress intended to denounce with penalties a transaction like that in the present case. It is a familiar rule, that a thing may be within the letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within its spirit, nor within the intention of its makers. This has been often asserted, and the reports are full of cases illustrating its application. This is not the substitution of the will of the judge for that of the legislator, for frequently words of general meaning are used in a statute, words broad enough to include an act in question, and yet a consideration of the whole legislation, or of the circumstances surrounding its enactment, or of the absurd results which follow from giving such broad meaning to the words, makes it unreasonable to believe that the legislator intended to include the particular act. As said in Plowden, 205 : “From which cases, it appears that the sages of the law heretofore have construed statutes quite contrary to the letter in some appearance, and those statutes which comprehend all things in the letter they have expounded to extend to but some things, and those which generally prohibit all people from doing such an act they have interpreted to permit some people to do it, and those which include every person in the letter, they have adjudged to reach to some persons only, which expositions have always been founded upon the intent of the legislature, which they have collected sometimes by considering the cause and necessity of making the act, sometimes by comparing one part of the act with another, and sometimes by foreign circumstances.”
In Margate Pier Co. v. llannam, 3 B. & Ald. 266, 270, Abbott, C. J. quotes from Lord Coke as follows: "Acts of Parliament are to be so construed as no man that is innocent or free from injury or wrong be, by a literal construction, punished or endamaged.” In the case of the State v. Clark, 5 Dutcher, (29 N. J. Law) 96, 98, 99, it appeared that an act had been passed making it a misdemeanor to wilfully break down a fence in the possession of another person. Clark was indicted
Opinion of the Court.
under that statute. The defence was that the act of breaking down the fence, though wilful, was in the exercise of a legal right to go upon his own lands. The trial court rejected the testimony offered to sustain the defence, and the Supreme Court held that this ruling was error. In its opinion the court used this language: “The act of 1855, in terms, makes the wilful opening, breaking down or.injuring of any fences belonging to or in the possession of any other person a misdemeanor. In what sense is the term wilful used? In common parlance, wilful is used in the sense of intentional, as distinguished from accidental or involuntary. Whatever one does intentionally he does wilfully. Is it used in that sense in this act? Did the legislature intend to make the intentional opening of a fence for the purpose of going upon the land of another indictable, if done by permission or for a lawful pur
We cannot suppose such to have been the actual intent. To adopt such a construction would put a stop to the ordinary business of life. The language of the act, if construed literally, evidently leads to an absurd result. If a literal construction of the words of a statute be absurd, the act must be so construed as to avoid the absurdity. The court must restrain the words. The object designed to be reached by the act must limit and control the literal import of the terms and phrases employed.” In United States v. Kirby, 7 Wall. 482, 486, the defendants were indicted for the violation of an act of Congress, providing "that if any person shall knowingly and wilfully obstruct or retard the passage of the mail, or of any driver or carrier, or of any horse or carriage carrying the same, he shall, upon conviction, for every such offence pay a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars." The specific charge was that the defendants knowingly and wilfully retarded the passage of one Farris, a carrier of the mail, while engaged in the performance of his duty, and also in like manner retarded the steamboat General Buell, at that time engaged in carrying the mail. To this indictment the defendants pleaded specially that Farris had been indicted for murder by a court of competent authority in Kentucky; that a bench warrant had been issued and