Nebraska State Constitution Article I-16

Article I-16


Bill of attainder; retroactive laws; contracts; special privileges.

No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or making any irrevocable grant of special privileges or immunities shall be passed.


  • Neb. Const. art. I, sec. 16 (1875).


1. Ex post facto law

2. Obligation of contract

3. No irrevocable grant of special privilege

4. Miscellaneous

1. Ex post facto law

The ex post facto clause does not prohibit retroactive application for civil disabilities and sanctions; only retroactive criminal punishment for past acts is prohibited. State v. Worm, 268 Neb. 74, 680 N.W.2d 151 (2004).

The registration requirement for an offender convicted of an aggravated offense under Nebraska's Sex Offender Registration Act is not a criminal punishment. State v. Worm, 268 Neb. 74, 680 N.W.2d 151 (2004).

Statutes which simply enlarge the class of persons who may be competent to testify in criminal cases are not ex post facto in their application to prosecutions for crimes committed prior to their passage, for they do not attach criminality to any act previously done, and which was innocent when done, nor aggravate any crime already committed, nor provide greater punishment, nor do they alter the degree of proof needed to convict. State v. Palmer, 224 Neb. 282, 399 N.W.2d 706 (1986).

Act reducing penalty for violation of Installment Loan Act did not violate this section. Davis v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 176 Neb. 865, 127 N.W.2d 907 (1964).

Change in point system law for revocation of license to operate motor vehicle was not ex post facto legislation. Durfee v. Ress, 163 Neb. 768, 81 N.W.2d 148 (1957).

Constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws applies only to penal or criminal matters, and does not apply to civil penalties imposed for failure to pay taxes. In re Estate of Rogers, 147 Neb. 1, 22 N.W.2d 297 (1946).

Law making an act criminal which was innocent when done, or making crime greater than when committed, or which alters situation of party to his disadvantage, or inflicts greater punishment than law annexed to crime when committed, is ex post facto and exceeds the power granted Legislature in the Constitution. State v. McCoy, 87 Neb. 385, 127 N.W. 137 (1910); Marion v. State, 20 Neb. 233, 29 N.W. 911 (1886); Marion v. State, 16 Neb. 349, 20 N.W. 289 (1884).

A criminal law is not retroactive in its operation. State v. Hoon, 78 Neb. 618, 111 N.W. 462 (1907).

Law intended to affect transactions which occurred, or rights accrued, before it became operative, and which ascribed to them effects not inherent in their nature, in view of the law enforced at time of occurrence, is retrospective. Chicago, B. & Q. R. R. Co. v. State ex rel. City of Omaha, 47 Neb. 549, 66 N.W. 624 (1896).

2. Obligation of contract

Allowance of credit against malpractice judgment for any nonrefundable benefits claimant receives is not an unconstitutional impairment of contract. Prendergast v. Nelson, 199 Neb. 97, 256 N.W.2d 657 (1977).

The Legislature may abrogate a right of action for a tort to happen in the future. State Securities Co. v. Norfolk Livestock Sales Co., Inc., 187 Neb. 446, 191 N.W.2d 614 (1971).

Retrospective statute distinguishing judgment liens for alimony and child support held to be constitutional. Hidy v. Hidy, 184 Neb. 527, 169 N.W.2d 285 (1969).

Statute creating Nebraska Power Review Board did not violate this section. City of Auburn v. Eastern Nebraska Public Power Dist., 179 Neb. 439, 138 N.W.2d 629 (1965).

Contract to sell school lands could not be impaired by subsequent legislation. Pfeifer v. Ableidinger, 166 Neb. 464, 89 N.W.2d 568 (1958).

Charter of public corporation does not constitute contract with state. United Community Services v. Omaha Nat. Bank, 162 Neb. 786, 77 N.W.2d 576 (1956).

Nonsigner provision of Fair Trade Act violated this section. McGraw Electric Co. v. Lewis & Smith Drug Co., Inc., 159 Neb. 703, 68 N.W.2d 608 (1955).

This section is a binding limitation on the exercise of governmental powers, legislative, executive or judicial, which "emergency" may not impair, destroy or modify, and the mortgage moratorium act violates constitutional provision on cessation of emergency for which enacted. First Trust Co. of Lincoln v. Smith, 134 Neb. 84, 277 N.W. 762 (1938); Strehlow v. Krings, 134 Neb. 82, 277 N.W. 784 (1938).

Disconnecting of lands from village is not impairment of contract of holder of village bonds. Hustead v. Village of Phillips, 131 Neb. 303, 267 N.W. 919 (1936); Hardin v. Pavlat, 130 Neb. 829, 266 N.W. 637 (1936).

This provision of Constitution does not conflict with Article XII, section 7, of Constitution, providing for double liability of stockholders of state banks. Luikart v. Higgins, 130 Neb. 395, 264 N.W. 903 (1936).

Statute may not operate retrospectively where it would impair obligation of contracts or interfere with vested rights. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Ohler, 119 Neb. 121, 227 N.W. 449 (1929).

Generally, the laws in force at the time a contract is entered into form a part of it and enter into its obligation, but the law then in force affording a remedy for a breach of the contract may be modified or changed without impairing the obligation of the contract, provided that an adequate remedy is left. Norris v. Tower, 102 Neb. 434, 167 N.W. 728 (1918).

Contracts between an irrigation company and consumers under the ditch, with reference to annual rates which should be charged for the use of water, were entered into with the law forming a part of the contract and subject to legislative control. McCook Irr. & Water Power Co. v. Burtless, 98 Neb. 141, 152 N.W. 334 (1915).

Curative acts, which attempt to take away property rights already vested, violate the Constitution. Draper v. Clayton, 87 Neb. 443, 127 N.W. 369 (1910); Helming v. Forrester, 87 Neb. 438, 127 N.W. 373 (1910).

Anti-pass laws, prohibiting free transportation by railroads, do not impair contracts. State v. Martyn, 82 Neb. 225, 117 N.W. 719 (1908).

An act which in effect takes away from counties any cause of action which they might have against persons who have been treasurers, for money which they have been allowed by the county board to retain as commissions on money received, impairs contract obligations of county. Kearney County v. Taylor, 54 Neb. 542, 74 N.W. 965 (1898).

Obligation is impaired whenever remedy is taken away or abolished, or legal obligations diminished, suspended or destroyed by abolishing remedy, or when enforcement burdened by new or unreasonable conditions or restrictions. American Bldg. & Loan Assn. v. Rainbolt, 48 Neb. 434, 67 N.W. 493 (1896).

Lease of public lands providing that lessor shall have right to choose one of the arbitrators for every five years for purpose of valuation, is indispensable contract right and cannot thereafter be changed by subsequent legislation. State ex rel. Brown v. McPeak, 31 Neb. 139, 47 N.W. 691 (1891).

Statute merely changing remedy or mode of enforcing contract is not impairment so as to violate this section. Henry O. Jones v. Elizabeth Davis, 6 Neb. 33 (1877).

Act requiring holder of over-due county warrant drawing 10 per cent to surrender same to county for bonds drawing 7 per cent is void as impairing contract obligation. Brewer v. Otoe County, 1 Neb. 373 (1871).

Reorganization of insolvent state bank under Bank Act of 1929 held to impair obligation of contract as to nonconsenting depositor. Hessen Siak Shams v. Nebraska State Bank of Bloomfield, 48 F.2d 894 (D. Neb. 1931).

3. No irrevocable grant of special privilege

Provisions of Grid System Act constituted a grant of special privileges and an unlawful splitting of a class, and was unconstitutional. Wittler v. Baumgartner, 180 Neb. 446, 144 N.W.2d 62 (1966).

Installment Sales Act of 1965 did not violate this section. Engelmeyer v. Murphy, 180 Neb. 295, 142 N.W.2d 342 (1966).

Legislative Bill 11 of the 1963 Special Session violated this section and was unconstitutional in its entirety. State Securities Co. v. Ley, 177 Neb. 251, 128 N.W.2d 766 (1964).

Legislative act permitting higher rate of interest to be charged by retailers of motor vehicles was a grant of special privilege in violation of this section. Stanton v. Mattson, 175 Neb. 767, 123 N.W.2d 844 (1963).

Constitutionality of Installment Sales Act of 1959 under this section raised, but case decided under another section of the Constitution. Elder v. Doerr, 175 Neb. 483, 122 N.W.2d 528 (1963).

Levy of tax for municipal university did not violate special privileges clause. Ratigan v. Davis, 175 Neb. 416, 122 N.W.2d 12 (1963).

Imposition of liability for reimbursement on estate of recipient of old age assistance does not violate this section. Boone County Old Age Assistance Board v. Myhre, 149 Neb. 669, 32 N.W.2d 262 (1948).

A private employment agency is not a business in which the public has such an interest that price fixing may properly be included as a method of regulation. Boomer v. Olsen, 143 Neb. 579, 10 N.W.2d 507 (1943).

Statutes creating housing authorities for slum clearance sustained against claim of violation of this section. Lennox v. Housing Authority of City of Omaha, 137 Neb. 582, 290 N.W. 451 (1940).

Statutory provision limiting issuance of motor vehicle dealer's license for sale of new cars to persons enfranchised by the manufacturers is an unlawful restriction on right to follow a lawful pursuit. Nelsen v. Tilley, 137 Neb. 327, 289 N.W. 388 (1939).

The Legislature is not prohibited from dictating how county road funds shall be used or allocated. City of Fremont v. Dodge County, 130 Neb. 856, 266 N.W. 771 (1936).

Provisions of irrigation act providing for granting by irrigation board of priority of right to use of water does not contravene this section of the Constitution. Farmers Canal Co. v. Frank, 72 Neb. 136, 100 N.W. 286 (1904).

Municipal grant of franchise for distribution of electric current, if not exclusive, and in the absence of specific limitation or duration, was in perpetuity and conveyed rights of property within the provisions of this section. Old Colony Trust Co. v. Omaha, 230 U.S. 100 (1913).

Statute authorizing city to make irrevocable contract with gas and electric company for maximum rates for twenty-year term is not a violation of this section forbidding Legislature to make "any irrevocable grant of special privileges." Nebraska Gas & Electric Co. v. City of Stromsburg, 2 F.2d 518 (8th Cir. 1924).

4. Miscellaneous

Only the clearest proof suffices to establish the unconstitutionality of a statute as a bill of attainder. State v. Galindo, 278 Neb. 599, 774 N.W.2d 190 (2009).

Constitutionality of Municipal Ground Water Act raised, but not decided. Metropolitan Utilities Dist. v. Merritt Beach Co., 179 Neb. 783, 140 N.W.2d 626 (1966).