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Barron v. City of Baltimore
[32 U.S. 243]
Marshall Court,  Decided 7-0,  2/16/1833
Read the actual decision

The case of Barron v. Baltimore is well known as the primary early test of the Bill of Rights' applicability to the states.

Barron was a wharf owner in the city of Baltimore, whose business was adversely effected when the city diverted some streams, causing siltation and reduced water depth around his docks. Barron sued on the basis that his Fifth Amendment rights had been violated when the city "took" his property without just compensation.

The primary question before the Court was whether the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution could be made to apply to the states. In carefully reviewing the history of the Bill of Rights, Chief Justice John Marshall arrived at the conclusion that the Bill of Rights only restrained the federal government, and that relief in cases such as Barron's would have to be sought under the individual state constitutions.

Originally a supporter of strong national power -- a view which might have changed his outlook in this case -- Marshall was affected by changes in the political environment and the Court's make-up. In 1845, the Court confirmed Barron in a similar case, Permoli v. New Orleans.

The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 appeared to iron out the balance of national versus state interests under the Bill. Though the Court confirmed the Fourteenth as a limit on state power in the 1884 case of Hurtado v. California, it was not until the 1930's that the Court began to deal with most of the issues in the Bill of Rights individually, and to toss out the precedent of Barron.

Today all of the requirements of the Bill of Rights are assumed to be operable against the states.

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