In the case Berry v. Fox, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals overturned legislation providing debt relief to local government. On December 9, 1933, the West Virginia legislature in its second extraordinary session of the year had enacted a measure that provided for the state to assume the debt for all of the outstanding school and road bonds issued by its various subdivisions. This would have made money available to local authorities for current expenses during the hard times of the Great Depression.
This legislation was an indirect response to pressure from the Roosevelt administration upon state government to provide state funds to supplement the federal relief funds. Both the state and federal governments had made the transition in the 1932 election from the conservative economics of the prior Republican administrations to an active approach to the nation’s economic woes. But the Supreme Court of Appeals in a 3–2 decision written by Judge Haymond Maxwell held that the legislature had violated Section 6 of Article X of the state constitution, which prohibited the state from ‘‘assum[ing], or becom[ing] responsible for the debts or liabilities of any county, city, township, corporation, or person.’’ Four of the judges on the court were Republicans, elected from five to 10 years earlier.
The plaintiff, A. M. Berry, a resident and taxpayer of Salt Lick District in Braxton County, had filed suit in Kanawha County immediately after the passage of the act. He was represented by two business-oriented Charleston law firms. A mere 36 days elapsed from the passage of the act until the court’s decision. If, as Democratic partisans argued, justice was denied in this case, it certainly was not delayed.
This Article was written by H. John Rogers
Last Revised on December 23, 2010