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United States v. Carolene Products Co

    Brief Fact Summary. Congress passed a law, which prohibited shipping milk containing any fat or oil other than milk fat in interstate commerce.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Court upheld a federal prohibition on the interstate shipment of filled milk, because it is a decision that should be made by Congress, not by courts.

    Facts. This was an indictment for shipping in interstate commerce packages of “milnut” a compound of condensed skimmed milk and coconut oil made in imitation or semblance of condensed milk or cream. The “Filled Milk Act” of Congress prohibited the shipment in interstate commerce of skimmed milk compounded with any fat or oil other than milk fat so as to resemble milk or cream.

    Issue. Does the act, which prohibits the shipment in interstate commerce of filled milk infringe the Fifth Amendment?

    Held. Justice Stone opinion.
    There was a strong public interest motive for the legislation. Twenty years of evidence has shown the danger to the public health from the general consumption of foods that have been stripped of elements essential to the maintenance of health. After extensive investigation, Congress concluded that the use of filled milk as a substitute for pure milk is generally injurious to health. This product was indistinguishable from pure mil, thus making fraudulent distribution easy and protection of the consumer difficult.
    Legislative finds the action taken as a constitutional exertion of the legislative power justified. If the statute was valid on its face, it could be invalid by proof of facts tending to show that the statute’s effect is without support in reason. It is evident from all the considerations presented to Congress that the issue is at least debatable whether commerce in filled milk should be left unregulated, restricted or wholly prohibited. The decision was for Congress, not for a jury or court to make.

    Discussion. Thirty-four years later, the successor company to Carolene Products Company successfully attacked the constitutionality of this Act as applied on the ground that the facts, which justified the decision at the time, ceased to exist. The Court agreed and the act was struck down as a violation of due process. That act had no rational means for the achievement of the announced objectives.


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