The rule is well established that the federal Supreme Court will determine for itself, that is, by its own independent judgment, whether or not that which is alleged to be a contract and to have been impaired by a state law is in truth a contract. That is to say, the federal tribunal does not hold itself bound by the decision of a state court which escapes from the application of the obligation clause by holding that the contract, the impairment of which is alleged, is not, in fact, a contract.

In Jefferson Branch Bank v. Skelly55 the court say: "It has never been denied, nor is it now, that the Supreme Court of the United States has an appellate power to revise the judgment of the supreme court of a State, whenever such a court shall adjudge that not to be a contract which has been alleged, in the forms of legal proceedings, by a litigant, to be one, within the meaning of that clause of the Constitution of the United States which inhibits the States from passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts. Of what use would the appellate power be to the litigant who feels himself aggrieved by some particular state legislation, if this court could not decide, independently of all adjudication of the supreme court of a State, whether or not the phraseology of the instrument in controversy was expressive of a contract within the protection of the Constitution of the United States, and that the obligation should be enforced, notwithstanding a contrary conclusion by the supreme court of a State." 56

54 121 U. S. 388; 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 916; 30 L. ed. 1059.

55 1 Black, 436; 17 L. ed. 173.

This doctrine is, of course, applicable not only to the construction of instruments which, it is claimed, constitute contracts between individuals, but also to state laws which, it is alleged, amount to contracts on the part of the States. There has been no serious denial of this from the time of the early case of Fletcher v. Peck, in which it was held that the inhibition of the obligation clause applies as well to contracts on the part of the States as to those between private individuals.