Legislative act that, without a trial, conveyed punishment on a person guilty of a seditious act, later was generalized to mean any law that punishes a person or group without a trial.
The bill of attainder, along with the bill of pains and penalties, was employed by the British Parliament in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The bill of attainder condemned people to death without due process and often denied their heirs the right to inherit any properties they owned. The bill of pain and penalties
Nonetheless, many of the Framers of the Constitution found bills of attainder objectionable because they viewed it to be the role of the courts, judging individual cases, rather than the legislature, to determine punishment. James Madison, in The Federalist (1788), No. 44, found bills of attainder to be “contrary to the first principles of the social compact.” Article I, section 9, clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from passing bills of attainder; Article 1, section 10, clause 1, prohibits the states from doing the same. The Supreme Court interpreted these clauses as covering bills of pains and penalties as well and grouped the two under the term “bill of attainder.” In modern usage, bills of attainder refer to legislative acts that punish a person or group without a trial.
In Calder v. Bull
In the twentieth century, attainder became an issue in cases in which legislation was passed to impose punishment of any kind on individuals or members of specific groups rather than to regulate for a legitimate purpose. Legislators must scrutinize bills carefully to avoid legislation being found a bill of attainder. For example, the Court held, in United States v. Lovett
In United States v. Brown
Abraham, Henry Julian, and Barbara A. Perry. Freedom and the Court: Civil Rights and Liberties in the United States. 8th ed. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003. Chaffee, Zechariah. Three Human Rights in the Constitution of 1787. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1956. Galligan, Denis J. Due Process and Fair Procedures: A Study of Administrative Procedures. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Lee, Francis Graham. Equal Protection: Rights and Liberties Under the Law. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. Melusky, Joseph A., and Keith A. Pesto. Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Rights and Liberties Under the Law. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. Perry, Richard L., ed. Sources of Our Liberties: Documentary Origins of Individual Liberties in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. New York: Associated College Presses, 1959.
Due process, procedural
Ex post facto laws
Jury, trial by
Lovett, United States v.
Nixon v. Administrator of General Services
Separation of powers