United States v. Carolene Products Co.

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United States v. Carolene Products Co.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued April 6, 1938
Decided April 25, 1938
Full case name United States v. Carolene Products Company
Citations 304 U.S. 144 (more)
58 S. Ct. 778; 82 L. Ed. 1234; 1938 U.S. LEXIS 1022
Prior history Demurrer to indictment sustained, 7 F. Supp. 500 (S.D. Ill. 1934)
Holding
The Filled Milk Act did not exceed the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce, or violate due process under the Fifth Amendment. Southern District of Illinois District Court reversed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Charles E. Hughes
Associate Justices
James C. McReynolds · Louis Brandeis
Pierce Butler · Harlan F. Stone
Owen J. Roberts · Benjamin N. Cardozo
Hugo Black · Stanley F. Reed
Case opinions
Majority Stone, joined by Hughes, Brandeis, Roberts, Black (except the part designated "Third")
Concurrence Butler
Dissent McReynolds
Reed, Cardozo took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. I; U.S. Const. amend. V; 21 U.S.C. § 61-63 (1938) (Filled Milk Act § 61-63)

United States v. Carolene Products Company, 304 U.S. 144 (1938), was an April 25, 1938 decision by the United States Supreme Court. The case contains for its famous "Footnote Four" in which the Court established the system of heightened scrutiny for laws targeting "discrete and insular minorities," compared with the lower scrutiny applied for economic regulations, as in this case.

Background[edit]

The case dealt with a federal law that prohibited filled milk (skimmed milk compounded with any fat or oil other than milk fat to resemble milk or cream) from being shipped in interstate commerce. The defendant argued that the law was unconstitutional because of both the Commerce Clause and the Due Process Clause.

The previous term, the Court had dramatically enlarged the activities that were considered to be in or to affect interstate commerce. It had also altered its settled jurisprudence in the area of substantive due process, the doctrine dealing with rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The changes meant that many New Deal programs that the Court would previously have struck down as unconstitutional would now be found constitutional.

The defendant company, charged with breaking the law, at trial filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the law was unconstitutional. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois granted the defendant's motion, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's ruling.

Decision[edit]

Justice Harlan Stone, writing for the Court, held that the law was "presumptively constitutional" properly within legislative discretion. It was not for the courts to overrule because it was supported by substantial public-health evidence and was not arbitrary or irrational. In other words, the Court applied a "rational basis" test.

Footnote Four[edit]

Carolene Products is best known for its fourth footnote, considered to be "the most famous footnote in constitutional law."[1] While the Court had applied minimal scrutiny (rational basis review) to the economic regulation in this case, Footnote Four reserved for other types of cases other, stricter standards of review.

Stone said that legislation aimed at "discrete and insular minorities" without the normal protections of the political process would be one exception to the presumption of constitutionality and justify a heightened standard of judicial review. The idea has greatly influenced jurisprudence on the Equal Protection Clause jurisprudence and judicial review. It recapitulated common law jurisprudence by which evidence of fraud or other significant legal defects in the transaction, such as self-dealing or other impropriety, may justify overturning a rule.

The constitutional law scholar John Hart Ely based his major work, Democracy and Distrust, on Footnote Four's second and third paragraphs, which correspond to the "Democracy" and "Distrust" of his title.

Text[edit]

There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten amendments, which are deemed equally specific when held to be embraced within the Fourteenth....

It is unnecessary to consider now whether legislation which restricts those political processes which can ordinarily be expected to bring about repeal of undesirable legislation, is to be subjected to more exacting judicial scrutiny under the general prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment than are most other types of legislation....

Nor need we inquire whether similar considerations enter into the review of statutes directed at particular religious... or nations... or racial minorities...: whether prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry.... [Italics added]

Significance[edit]

Footnote Four was an explicit introduction to Supreme Court jurisprudence of the idea of levels of judicial scrutiny. In keeping with the New Deal Revolution, Footnote Four established the "rational basis test" for economic legislation, an extremely low standard of judicial review. It mandates that legislation enacted by Congress or state legislatures that deals with economic regulation must be rationally related to a legitimate state interest.

Therefore, Footnote Four outlines a higher level of judicial scrutiny for legislation that met certain conditions:

  1. On its face violates a provision of the Constitution (facial challenge).
  2. Attempts to distort or rig the political process.
  3. Discriminates against minorities, particularly those who lack sufficient numbers or power to seek redress through the political process.

This higher level of scrutiny, now called "strict scrutiny", was first applied in Justice Black's opinion in Korematsu v. U.S. (1944).

Some argue that the "most famous footnote" was in fact written by not Stone but his law clerk, Louis Lusky.[2] In fact, the cited work above, while quite useful on the origin and growth of the footnote, does not claim that the law clerk was the author, and it implies the opposite, based on letters between the justices. In his later work, Our Nine Tribunes: The Supreme Court in Modern America, however, Lusky includes facsimiles of the original drafts of the footnote, the first of which is in his own hand. Stone edited the second, typed draft, and at the behest of the Chief Justice, he added certain passages.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Levels of Scrutiny Under the Equal Protection Clause". Retrieved 2008-06-08. 
  2. ^ Lusky, Louis (1982). "Footnote Redux: A "Carolene Products" Reminiscence". Columbia Law Review. Columbia Law Review Association, Inc. 82 (6): 1093–1109. JSTOR 1122160. doi:10.2307/1122160. 

Further reading[edit]