The Supreme Court’s broad construction of the contracts clause enhanced protection from legislative interference for vested rights in private property. For the first time, moreover, the Court declared that a state law was unconstitutional and therefore invalid.
In 1795 the Georgia legislature granted thirty-five million acres of prime cotton land along the Yazoo River to speculative companies. The price was 1.5 cents per acre. Informed observers believed that members of the legislature had been influenced by bribes and personal interests. The following year, a newly elected legislature rescinded the Yazoo grant and invalidated all property rights deriving from it. Meanwhile, however, third parties in several states had already purchased much of the land. One such person, Robert Fletcher, sued John Peck in federal court, with the goal of having the title restored.
In one of its most unpopular decisions, the Supreme Court found that the rescinding statute had violated the contract clause. Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice John Marshall
Dartmouth College v. Woodward
Ex post facto laws