As in the case of the examination of the Constitution itself, the courts in considering the constitutionality of a statute hold themselves bound by the words of the statute, that is, they determine the intent of the legislature by the words it has employed. And, therefore, they will not resort to legislative debates except where necessary to resolve a latent ambiguity.

In Maxwell v. Dow33 the court say: "Counsel for plaintiff in error has cited from the speech of one of the Senators of the United States, made in the Senate when the proposed Fourteenth Amendment was under consideration by that body. . . . What speeches were made by other Senators and by Representatives in the House upon this subject is not stated by counsel, nor does he state what construction was given to it, if any, by other members of Congress. It is clear that what is said in Congress upon such an occasion may or not express the views of the majority of those who favor the adoption of the measure which may be before that body and the question whether the proposed amendment itself expresses the meaning which those who spoke in its favor may have assumed that it did, is one to be determined by the language actually therein used, and not by the speeches made regarding it. What individual Senators or Representatives may have urged in debate, in regard to the meaning to be given to a proposed constitutional amendment, or bill, or resolution, does not furnish a, firm ground for its proper construction, nor is it important as explanatory of the grounds upon which the members voted in adopting it.34 In the cases of a constitutional amendment it is of less materiality than in that of an ordinary bill or resolution. A constitutional amendment must be agreed to, not only by Senators and Representatives, but it must be ratified by the legislatures, or by conventions, in three-fourths of the States before such an amendment can take effect. The safe way is to read its language in connection with the known condition of affairs out of which the occasion for its adoption may have arisen, and then to construe it, if there be therein any doubtful expressions, in a way so far as is reasonably possible, to forward the known purpose or object for which the Amendment was adopted. This rule could not, of course, be so used as to limit the force and effect of an amendment in a manner which the plain and unambiguous language used therein would not justify or permit."35

32 Query, as to whether the resort to "history of the times" was legitimate in the Slaughter House Cases for the interpretation of the clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that "no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

33 176 U. S. 581; 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 448; 44 L. ed. 597.

34 Citing United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Association (1G6 U. S. 290; 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 540; 41 L. ed. 1007); Dunlap v. United States (173 U. S. 65; 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 319; 43 L. ed. 616).

35 In United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Association (166 U. S. 290; 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 540; 41 L. ed. 1007) both the majority and minority opinions detail at some length the congressional history of the so-called Anti-Trust Act of 1S90, but both admit that this is not a legitimate source of information. The majority justices after their review of the course of the bill through Congress and the debates attendant thereupon, argue that it is impossible in fact to say what were the views of the majority of the members of each House of Congress in relation to the meaning of the act, and add: "There is, too, a general acquiescence in the doctrine that debates in Congress are not appropriate sources of information from which to discover the meaning of the language of a statute passed by that body (United States v. U. P. Railroad Co., 91 U. S. 72; 23 L. ed. 324; Aldridge v. Williams, 3 How. 9; 11 L. ed. 469; Taney, Chief Justice; Mitchell v. Great Works Milling and Manufacturing Co., 2 Story, 648; Queen v. Hertford College, 3 Q. B. D. 693). The reason is that it is impossible to determine with certainty what construction was put upon an act by the members of a legislative body that passed it by resorting to the speeches of individual members thereof. Those who did not speak may not have agreed with those who did; and those who spoke might differ from each other; the result being that the only proper way to construe a legislative act is from the language used in the act, and, upon occasion, by a resort to the history of the times when it was passed." The opinion then goes on to show that from " the history of the times " it would appear that the act in question was intended to have the meaning which the court attaches to it.

In 1833, Mr. Calhoun when voting in the Senate upon the tariff act of that year said that he wished it distinctly understood that he did so upon the condition that a certain construction and application should be given to the measure. Other Senators, however, promptly and properly pointed out that such a qualification would be void of any force, as the act would, after enactment, necessarily be given such a meaning as its words and the Constitution would permit.36