US v Carolene Products Co

US Constitutional Law

US v Carolene Products Co
Image: ‘Oreo Cookies and Milk’ by Mick McGinty

Amendment rights and the need to protect against fraud, are central to a case involving a distributor of food products and the intervention by Congress in the interests of public safety when in 1938, a corporate entity was indicted under ss.61 and 62 of the Filled Milk Act 1923.

After having shipped a number of containers of ‘Milnut’, a product that fell within the scope of the Act, and which resulted in a sentence of either imprisonment or a $1000 fine as per s.63, the now appellee was charged with illegal distribution and misrepresentation, within which s.62 clearly expressed how:

“It is declared that filled milk, as herein defined, is an adulterated article of food, injurious to the public health, and its sale constitutes a fraud upon the public. It shall be unlawful for any person to ship or deliver for shipment in interstate or foreign commerce, any filled milk.”

Whereupon the matter was taken to appeal before the US Supreme Court under Criminal Appeals Act 1907. Here, the appellee demurred that application of the 1923 Act was subject to the limitations prescribed by the tenth amendment to the Constitution, which states that:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

And that seizure of the prohibited goods was a breach of the fifth amendment to the Constitution, which expresses how:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

Therefore the decision by Congress to create and apply prohibitive legislation which conflicts with the aims of the Constitution, was both ultra vires and an affront to the privacy rights and freedoms of the individual citizens of the United States of America.

Contrastingly, the Court drew reference to Hebe Co. v. Shaw, in which the Supreme Court ruled that any state law forbidding the manufacture and sale of filled milk under s.6(c) of the 1923 Act, which clarified how:

“The term ‘filled milk’ means any milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed, evaporated, concentrated, Powdered, dried, or desiccated, to which has been added, or which has been blended or compounded with, any fat or oil other than milk fat, so that the resulting product is in imitation or semblance of milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed, evaporated, concentrated, powdered, dried, or desiccated.”

Was not an infringement of the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution, which again stipulates that:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This translated that while the rights afforded under the Constitution were exempt from the wishes of Congress, the importance of public interest and compelling evidence submitted by the House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in relation to ‘doctored’ milk, justified the prevention of misrepresentation through sensitive regulation, as opposed to wanton deprivation of liberty or distortion of justice. Thus it was for this fundamental reason that the Court dismissed the demurrer and reversed the judgment accordingly.

Key Citations

“Congress is free to exclude from interstate commerce articles whose use in the states for which they are destined it may reasonably conceive to be injurious to the public health, morals, or welfare…or which contravene the policy of the state of their destination…”

Author: Neil Egan-Ronayne

Author, publisher and foodie...

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