chapter  XIII
XIII Property Rights and Judicial Activism
Pages 27

The protection of property in the late nineteenth century had a higher priority with the Supreme Court than the protection civil rights and liberties. Following the Civil War the Court increasingly intervened in matters formerly left to Congress and state legislatures in order to protect business and property interests against public regulation. A dozen acts of Congress and over one hundred state laws were declared unconstitutional between 1874 and 1898, more than double the number invalidated previously. The Fourteenth Amendment provided a powerful weapon against state regulation after the holding in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacifi c Railroad (1886) that it protected corporations as well as natural persons. The same was true on the federal level. Over a nine-year period, the Chase Court struck down more congressional legislation than during the Marshall and Taney eras combined. The conservative stance extended to every area of public policy. Constitutional interpretation became a pretext for policy-making as the justices imposed their views upon the country in everything from race relations to protecting business against public regulation. Final say over public policy shifted away from the political branches of government until by the end of the century the United States had what many regarded as government by the judiciary.