Alma Motor Co. v. Timken Co

In Alma Motor Co. v. Timken Co., 329 U. S. 129 (1946), the Court of Appeals had before it not only a constitutional question which it decided, but also a nonconstitutional question, which alone would have disposed of the appeal. The Court of Appeals ruled on the constitutional question, and it appears that at no time did any party urge that court to rule on the statutory ground. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on the constitutional issue and heard argument at the October 1944 Term on the constitutional question. After the case had been set down for further argument in the 1945 Term, the United States, which was an intervenor in the action, pointed out that the case could be decided on statutory grounds, and moved to vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and to remand the case to it for determination of the statutory question. The Court adopted the suggestion of the United States, relying on Silber v. United States, 370 U. S. 717 (1962) and stating: "This Court has said repeatedly that it ought not pass on the constitutionality of an act of Congress unless such adjudication is unavoidable. This is true even though the question is properly presented by the record. If two questions are raised, one of non-constitutional and the other of constitutional nature, and a decision of the non-constitutional question would make unnecessary a decision of the constitutional question, the former will be decided." (Id., at 136.) The presence of the nonconstitutional ground had not been raised below, or in the Supreme Court until after argument, but the Court observed: "We agree that much time has been wasted by the earlier failure of the parties to indicate, or the Circuit Court of Appeals or this Court to see, the course which should have been followed. This, however, is no reason to continue now on the wrong course. The principle of avoiding constitutional questions is one which was conceived out of considerations of sound judicial administration. It is a traditional policy of our courts." (Id., at 142.)