As I mentioned previously, the New York Times published an article that highlighted how residents of Washington and Alexandria were planning on challenging the constitutionality of the Retrocession of Alexandria. Less than 4 years later they brought the challenge all the way up to the Supreme Court, but as you can read below, their challenge failed.
The error in the plan was the concept of ‘continued sovereignty’, as in, just because the government changes, it does not mean one can choose to not follow the rules of the new government, including taxation. The Supreme Court did not touch on the legality of the Retrocession of Alexandria, but instead merely said that “[Virginia] She does not complain of the retrocession,” and “No murmur of discontent has been heard from them: on the contrary, Congress, by more than one act, has recognized the transfer as a settled and valid fact.”
By saying such, the Supreme Court did not look deeper at the constitutional considerations of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 in regards to the retrocession, but only at the merits of the suit itself- the payment of taxes to a sovereign government. I believe, if they would have chosen a different path, one that included the State of Maryland as a plaintiff, the constitutional considerations of the retrocession would have been discussed further. Instead of as Justice Swayne concluded, “The plaintiff in error is estopped from raising the point which he seeks to have decided [the Constitutionality of the Retrocession of Alexandria]. He cannot, under the circumstances, vicariously raise a question, nor force upon the parties to the compact an issue which neither of them desires to make.”
Supreme Court of United States.
Mr. W. Willoughby and Mr. S. Shellabarger for the plaintiff in error.
Mr. R.T. Daniel, contra.
MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.
This suit was brought to determine the validity of the retrocession by Congress to the State of Virginia of that part of the District of Columbia, as originally constituted, which was ceded by Virginia to the United States. The plaintiff in error was the plaintiff in the court below. The case upon which he relies is thus set forth in his declaration:—
In pursuance of the Constitution of the United States, Virginia, by an act of her legislature of Dec. 3, 1789, ceded to the United States that part of her territory subsequently known as the county of Alexandria. Congress passed an act accepting the cession. Maryland ceded to the United States the county of Washington, and Congress accepted that cession also. The two counties constituted a territory ten miles square, which Congress set apart as the seat of the government of the United States, and organized as the District of Columbia, over which the Constitution of the United States required that Congress should exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever. Thereafter, on the 9th of July, 1846, Congress, in violation of the Constitution, passed an act purporting to authorize a vote to be taken by the people of Alexandria County to determine whether the county should be retroceded to the State of Virginia, and declaring, that, in case a majority of the votes should be cast in favor of retrocession, the county should be retroceded and for ever relinquished in full and absolute right and jurisdiction. A majority of the votes were cast for retrocession: whereupon, without any further action by Congress, the State of Virginia passed an act declaring that the county was reannexed, and formed a part of the State. Since that time the State has assumed to exercise full jurisdiction and control over the county, and to authorize the election of officers for the county, among whom is one known as the collector for the township of Washington. The defendant was elected such collector, and assumed to exercise the duties of his office. The State has also assumed to enforce the assessment and collection of taxes upon persons and property in the county. The plaintiff resides in the county, and owns a large amount of real estate and other property there. The defendant alleged that an assessment had been made upon this property; that there was payable to him as such collector, upon the assessment, the sum of $165.18; and he demanded payment. In the event of refusal to pay, he would have sold the property pursuant to the law of the State. To prevent the sacrifice which this would have involved, the plaintiff paid the money under protest; notifying the defendant at the time that he regarded the exaction as illegal and unauthorized, upon the ground that the county of Alexandria was not within the jurisdiction of the State of Virginia, but that it was within the District of Columbia. He avers that the act of Congress of 1846, before mentioned, every thing done under it, and the law of Virginia reannexing the county to the State and extending her jurisdiction over it, are contrary to the Constitution of the United States, and illegal and void.
He therefore claims to recover the amount so paid to the collector.