A reader asked for more discussion of the Charles River Bridge decision, which I cited as a precedent against claims that taxis displaced by Uber were legally entitled to compensation. Charles River Bridge is a fascinating Supreme Court case that is largely unknown to this generation of lawyers. I remembered it only from discussions in American history class as a high school student.
The case marks the transition from the Marshall Court to the Taney Court. In fact, it was first argued under the Great Chief Justice but decided under Taney. It shows how Jacksonian democracy shifted the course of constitutional law.
The case revolved around bridges and the anti-monopoly principle. The bridges at issue spanned the Charles River in Massachusetts. That first bridge builder, the Charles River Bridge Company, argued that the state had given it a monopoly in return for building its bridge. Thus a subsequent charter to another company for building another bridge violated the provision of the Constitution which bars states from “impairing the obligation of contracts.”
Justice Taney’s opinion based his reading on the original charter for Charles River Bridge company, which he interpreted as not granting any monopoly right. But his interpretation was heavily influenced by his democratic and indeed Democratic ideals.