Barron v. Baltimore

Case Date: 06/07/2023

Barron v. Mayor of Baltimore, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 243 (1833) established a precedent on whether the United States Bill of Rights could be applied to state governments. John Barron co-owned a profitable wharf in the Baltimore harbor. He sued the mayor of Baltimore for damages, claiming that when the city had diverted the flow of streams while engaging in street construction, it had created mounds of sand and earth near his wharf making the water too shallow for most vessels. The trial court awarded Barron damages of $4,500, but the appellate court reversed the ruling. The Supreme Court decided that the Bill of Rights, specifically the Fifth Amendment's guarantee that government takings of private property for public use require just compensation, are restrictions on the federal government alone. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Marshall held that the first ten "amendments contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the State governments. This court cannot so apply them." Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243, 250. The case was particularly important in terms of American government because it stated that the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights did not restrict the state governments. Later Supreme Court rulings would reaffirm this ruling of Barron, most notably United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875). However, beginning in the early 20th century, the Supreme Court has used the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to apply most of the Bill of Rights to the states through the process and doctrine of selective incorporation. Therefore, as to most, but not all, provisions of the Bill of Rights, Barron and its progeny have been circumvented, if not actually overruled.