Bills of Attainder, and their lesser version Bills of Pains and Penalties, are the one power by which governments have ruled through the ages.
To understand a Bill of Attainder, one needs to piece together definitions from a few cases from the Supreme Court of The United States.
Congress can only make laws in general applicability. Congress cannot chose whom the law shall apply to. Congress cannot give or remove any rights that are not equally shared by all. Congress cannot use a past action as a trigger for a law.
Bills of Attainder and Bills of Pains and Penalties are forbidden to Congress via the US Constitution.
“No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.” Article 1, Section 9 (excerpt)
“No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility.” Article 1, Section 10 (excerpt)
And each individual state has it as a part of their constitution as well.
Bills of Attainder (Bills of Pains and Penalties included) are such that they are targeted law against/for an easily definable group of individuals, or an individual.
They are not required to name the party they apply to.
The “punishment” may be inflicted absolutely, or conditionally.
It can come in a civil form, or a criminal form.
Their creation usually comes not from one overt act, but a series of subversive acts that accumulate over time. Statutory Schemes are used to implement such laws.
The simplest definition that I’ve been able to come up with is:
“Any targeted law that provides for unequal benefits, or attempts to remove a right otherwise enjoyed by everyone else.”
Bills of Attainder have been used throughout history to control the populace by the government.
Here is a list of groups that have been effected by Bills of Attainder.
Sex Offenders Jews in Germany African Americans in America and Europe Native Americans by Spaniards Muslims by Spaniards Native Americans by America Jews in Egypt
I think you get the idea.
Bills of Attainder are the one means by which governments have been able to set up hierarchy. Without this tool, we would not have had the “classes” all throughout Europe and into America.
One man would not be the master of another.
As mentioned before, Bills of Attainder can also give rights that are not shared by everyone else.
Easiest way to understand that comes from this statement:
“If Congress gives a group a right, everyone else is being punished for not being part of that group.”
Only when people understand how Congress does this will they be able to stop it.
Cummings v Missouri (1866)
Ex Parte Garland (1866)
US v Brown (1965)
Yick Wo v Hopkins (1886)
US v Lovett (1946)