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4.6 Cases

Griswold v. Connecticut

Griswold v. Connecticut

381 U.S. 479 (U.S. Supreme Court 1965)

A nineteenth-century Connecticut law made the use, possession, or distribution of birth control devices illegal. The law also prohibited anyone from giving information about such devices. The executive director and medical director of a planned parenthood association were found guilty of giving out such information to a married couple that wished to delay having children for a few years. The directors were fined $100 each.

They appealed throughout the Connecticut state court system, arguing that the state law violated (infringed) a basic or fundamental right of privacy of a married couple: to live together and have sex together without the restraining power of the state to tell them they may legally have intercourse but not if they use condoms or other birth control devices. At each level (trial court, court of appeals, and Connecticut Supreme Court), the Connecticut courts upheld the constitutionality of the convictions.

Plurality Opinion by Justice William O. Douglass

We do not sit as a super legislature to determine the wisdom, need, and propriety of laws that touch economic problems, business affairs, or social conditions. The [Connecticut] law, however, operates directly on intimate relation of husband and wife and their physician’s role in one aspect of that relation.

[Previous] cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.…Various guarantees create zones of privacy. The right of association contained in the penumbra of the First Amendment is one.…The Third Amendment in its prohibition against the quartering of soldiers “in any house” in time of peace without the consent of the owner is another facet of that privacy. The Fourth Amendment explicitly affirms the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment in its Self-Incrimination Clause enables the citizen to create a zone of privacy which the government may not force him to surrender to his detriment. The Ninth Amendment provides: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were described…as protection against all governmental invasions “of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.” We recently referred in Mapp v. Ohio…to the Fourth Amendment as creating a “right to privacy, no less important than any other right carefully and particularly reserved to the people.”

[The law in question here], in forbidding the use of contraceptives rather than regulating their manufacture or sale, seeks to achieve its goals by having a maximum destructive impact on [the marital] relationship. Such a law cannot stand.…Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marital relationship.

We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.

Mr. Justice Stewart, whom Mr. Justice Black joins, dissenting.

Since 1879 Connecticut has had on its books a law which forbids the use of contraceptives by anyone. I think this is an uncommonly silly law. As a practical matter, the law is obviously unenforceable, except in the oblique context of the present case. As a philosophical matter, I believe the use of contraceptives in the relationship of marriage should be left to personal and private choice, based upon each individual’s moral, ethical, and religious beliefs. As a matter of social policy, I think professional counsel about methods of birth control should be available to all, so that each individual’s choice can be meaningfully made. But we are not asked in this case to say whether we think this law is unwise, or even asinine. We are asked to hold that it violates the United States Constitution. And that I cannot do.

In the course of its opinion the Court refers to no less than six Amendments to the Constitution: the First, the Third, the Fourth, the Fifth, the Ninth, and the Fourteenth. But the Court does not say which of these Amendments, if any, it thinks is infringed by this Connecticut law.

As to the First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, I can find nothing in any of them to invalidate this Connecticut law, even assuming that all those Amendments are fully applicable against the States. It has not even been argued that this is a law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” And surely, unless the solemn process of constitutional adjudication is to descend to the level of a play on words, there is not involved here any abridgment of “the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” No soldier has been quartered in any house. There has been no search, and no seizure. Nobody has been compelled to be a witness against himself.

The Court also quotes the Ninth Amendment, and my Brother Goldberg’s concurring opinion relies heavily upon it. But to say that the Ninth Amendment has anything to do with this case is to turn somersaults with history. The Ninth Amendment, like its companion the Tenth, which this Court held “states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered,” United States v. Darby, 312 U.S. 100, 124, was framed by James Madison and adopted by the States simply to make clear that the adoption of the Bill of Rights did not alter the plan that the Federal Government was to be a government of express and limited powers, and that all rights and powers not delegated to it were retained by the people and the individual States. Until today no member of this Court has ever suggested that the Ninth Amendment meant anything else, and the idea that a federal court could ever use the Ninth Amendment to annul a law passed by the elected representatives of the people of the State of Connecticut would have caused James Madison no little wonder.

What provision of the Constitution, then, does make this state law invalid? The Court says it is the right of privacy “created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees.” With all deference, I can find no such general right of privacy in the Bill of Rights, in any other part of the Constitution, or in any case ever before decided by this Court.

At the oral argument in this case we were told that the Connecticut law does not “conform to current community standards.” But it is not the function of this Court to decide cases on the basis of community standards. We are here to decide cases “agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States.” It is the essence of judicial duty to subordinate our own personal views, our own ideas of what legislation is wise and what is not. If, as I should surely hope, the law before us does not reflect the standards of the people of Connecticut, the people of Connecticut can freely exercise their true Ninth and Tenth Amendment rights to persuade their elected representatives to repeal it. That is the constitutional way to take this law off the books.

Case Questions

  1. Which opinion is the strict constructionist opinion here—Justice Douglas’s or that of Justices Stewart and Black?
  2. What would have happened if the Supreme Court had allowed the Connecticut Supreme Court decision to stand and followed Justice Black’s reasoning? Is it likely that the citizens of Connecticut would have persuaded their elected representatives to repeal the law challenged here?

Wickard v. Filburn

Wickard v. Filburn

317 U.S. 111 (U.S. Supreme Court 1942)

Mr. Justice Jackson delivered the opinion of the Court.

Mr. Filburn for many years past has owned and operated a small farm in Montgomery County, Ohio, maintaining a herd of dairy cattle, selling milk, raising poultry, and selling poultry and eggs. It has been his practice to raise a small acreage of winter wheat, sown in the Fall and harvested in the following July; to sell a portion of the crop; to feed part to poultry and livestock on the farm, some of which is sold; to use some in making flour for home consumption; and to keep the rest for the following seeding.

His 1941 wheat acreage allotment was 11.1 acres and a normal yield of 20.1 bushels of wheat an acre. He sowed, however, 23 acres, and harvested from his 11.9 acres of excess acreage 239 bushels, which under the terms of the Act as amended on May 26, 1941, constituted farm marketing excess, subject to a penalty of 49 cents a bushel, or $117.11 in all.

The general scheme of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 as related to wheat is to control the volume moving in interstate and foreign commerce in order to avoid surpluses and shortages and the consequent abnormally low or high wheat prices and obstructions to commerce. [T]he Secretary of Agriculture is directed to ascertain and proclaim each year a national acreage allotment for the next crop of wheat, which is then apportioned to the states and their counties, and is eventually broken up into allotments for individual farms.

It is urged that under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Article I, § 8, clause 3, Congress does not possess the power it has in this instance sought to exercise. The question would merit little consideration since our decision in United States v. Darby, 312 U.S. 100, sustaining the federal power to regulate production of goods for commerce, except for the fact that this Act extends federal regulation to production not intended in any part for commerce but wholly for consumption on the farm.

Kassel v. Consolidated Freightways Corp.

Kassel v. Consolidated Freightways Corp.

450 U.S. 662 (U.S. Supreme Court 1981)

JUSTICE POWELL announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which JUSTICE WHITE, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS joined.

The question is whether an Iowa statute that prohibits the use of certain large trucks within the State unconstitutionally burdens interstate commerce.

I

Appellee Consolidated Freightways Corporation of Delaware (Consolidated) is one of the largest common carriers in the country: it offers service in 48 States under a certificate of public convenience and necessity issued by the Interstate Commerce Commission. Among other routes, Consolidated carries commodities through Iowa on Interstate 80, the principal east-west route linking New York, Chicago, and the west coast, and on Interstate 35, a major north-south route.

Consolidated mainly uses two kinds of trucks. One consists of a three-axle tractor pulling a 40-foot two-axle trailer. This unit, commonly called a single, or “semi,” is 55 feet in length overall. Such trucks have long been used on the Nation’s highways. Consolidated also uses a two-axle tractor pulling a single-axle trailer which, in turn, pulls a single-axle dolly and a second single-axle trailer. This combination, known as a double, or twin, is 65 feet long overall. Many trucking companies, including Consolidated, increasingly prefer to use doubles to ship certain kinds of commodities. Doubles have larger capacities, and the trailers can be detached and routed separately if necessary. Consolidated would like to use 65-foot doubles on many of its trips through Iowa.

The State of Iowa, however, by statute, restricts the length of vehicles that may use its highways. Unlike all other States in the West and Midwest, Iowa generally prohibits the use of 65-foot doubles within its borders.

Because of Iowa’s statutory scheme, Consolidated cannot use its 65-foot doubles to move commodities through the State. Instead, the company must do one of four things: (i) use 55-foot singles; (ii) use 60-foot doubles; (iii) detach the trailers of a 65-foot double and shuttle each through the State separately; or (iv) divert 65-foot doubles around Iowa. Dissatisfied with these options, Consolidated filed this suit in the District Court averring that Iowa’s statutory scheme unconstitutionally burdens interstate commerce. Iowa defended the law as a reasonable safety measure enacted pursuant to its police power. The State asserted that 65-foot doubles are more dangerous than 55-foot singles and, in any event, that the law promotes safety and reduces road wear within the State by diverting much truck traffic to other states.

In a 14-day trial, both sides adduced evidence on safety and on the burden on interstate commerce imposed by Iowa’s law. On the question of safety, the District Court found that the “evidence clearly establishes that the twin is as safe as the semi.” 475 F.Supp. 544, 549 (SD Iowa 1979). For that reason, “there is no valid safety reason for barring twins from Iowa’s highways because of their configuration.…The evidence convincingly, if not overwhelmingly, establishes that the 65-foot twin is as safe as, if not safer than, the 60-foot twin and the 55-foot semi.…”

“Twins and semis have different characteristics. Twins are more maneuverable, are less sensitive to wind, and create less splash and spray. However, they are more likely than semis to jackknife or upset. They can be backed only for a short distance. The negative characteristics are not such that they render the twin less safe than semis overall. Semis are more stable, but are more likely to ‘rear-end’ another vehicle.”

In light of these findings, the District Court applied the standard we enunciated in Raymond Motor Transportation, Inc. v. Rice, 434 U.S. 429 (1978), and concluded that the state law impermissibly burdened interstate commerce: “[T]he balance here must be struck in favor of the federal interests. The total effect of the law as a safety measure in reducing accidents and casualties is so slight and problematical that it does not outweigh the national interest in keeping interstate commerce free from interferences that seriously impede it.”

The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. 612 F.2d 1064 (1979). It accepted the District Court’s finding that 65-foot doubles were as safe as 55-foot singles. Id. at 1069. Thus, the only apparent safety benefit to Iowa was that resulting from forcing large trucks to detour around the State, thereby reducing overall truck traffic on Iowa’s highways. The Court of Appeals noted that this was not a constitutionally permissible interest. It also commented that the several statutory exemptions identified above, such as those applicable to border cities and the shipment of livestock, suggested that the law, in effect, benefited Iowa residents at the expense of interstate traffic. Id. at 1070-1071. The combination of these exemptions weakened the presumption of validity normally accorded a state safety regulation. For these reasons, the Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court that the Iowa statute unconstitutionally burdened interstate commerce.

Iowa appealed, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 446 U.S. 950 (1980). We now affirm.

II

It is unnecessary to review in detail the evolution of the principles of Commerce Clause adjudication. The Clause is both a “prolific ‘ of national power and an equally prolific source of conflict with legislation of the state[s].” H. P. Hood & Sons, Inc. v. Du Mond, 336 U.S. 525, 336 U.S. 534 (1949). The Clause permits Congress to legislate when it perceives that the national welfare is not furthered by the independent actions of the States. It is now well established, also, that the Clause itself is “a limitation upon state power even without congressional implementation.” Hunt v. Washington Apple Advertising Comm’n, 432 U.S. 333 at 350 (1977). The Clause requires that some aspects of trade generally must remain free from interference by the States. When a State ventures excessively into the regulation of these aspects of commerce, it “trespasses upon national interests,” Great A&P Tea Co. v. Cottrell, 424 U.S. 366, 424 U.S. 373 (1976), and the courts will hold the state regulation invalid under the Clause alone.

The Commerce Clause does not, of course, invalidate all state restrictions on commerce. It has long been recognized that, “in the absence of conflicting legislation by Congress, there is a residuum of power in the state to make laws governing matters of local concern which nevertheless in some measure affect interstate commerce or even, to some extent, regulate it.” Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona, 325 U.S. 761 (1945).

The extent of permissible state regulation is not always easy to measure. It may be said with confidence, however, that a State’s power to regulate commerce is never greater than in matters traditionally of local concern. Washington Apple Advertising Comm’n, supra at 432 U.S. 350. For example, regulations that touch upon safety—especially highway safety—are those that “the Court has been most reluctant to invalidate.” Raymond, supra at 434 U.S. 443 (and other cases cited). Indeed, “if safety justifications are not illusory, the Court will not second-guess legislative judgment about their importance in comparison with related burdens on interstate commerce.” Raymond, supra at 434 U.S. at 449. Those who would challenge such bona fide safety regulations must overcome a “strong presumption of validity.” Bibb v. Navajo Freight Lines, Inc., 359 U.S. 520 at (1959).

But the incantation of a purpose to promote the public health or safety does not insulate a state law from Commerce Clause attack. Regulations designed for that salutary purpose nevertheless may further the purpose so marginally, and interfere with commerce so substantially, as to be invalid under the Commerce Clause. In the Court’s recent unanimous decision in Raymond we declined to “accept the State’s contention that the inquiry under the Commerce Clause is ended without a weighing of the asserted safety purpose against the degree of interference with interstate commerce.” This “weighing” by a court requires—and indeed the constitutionality of the state regulation depends on—“a sensitive consideration of the weight and nature of the state regulatory concern in light of the extent of the burden imposed on the course of interstate commerce.” Id. at 434 U.S. at 441; accord, Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137 at 142 (1970); Bibb, supra, at 359 U.S. at 525-530.

III

Applying these general principles, we conclude that the Iowa truck length limitations unconstitutionally burden interstate commerce.

In Raymond Motor Transportation, Inc. v. Rice, the Court held that a Wisconsin statute that precluded the use of 65-foot doubles violated the Commerce Clause. This case is Raymond revisited. Here, as in Raymond, the State failed to present any persuasive evidence that 65-foot doubles are less safe than 55-foot singles. Moreover, Iowa’s law is now out of step with the laws of all other Midwestern and Western States. Iowa thus substantially burdens the interstate flow of goods by truck. In the absence of congressional action to set uniform standards, some burdens associated with state safety regulations must be tolerated. But where, as here, the State’s safety interest has been found to be illusory, and its regulations impair significantly the federal interest in efficient and safe interstate transportation, the state law cannot be harmonized with the Commerce Clause.

A

Iowa made a more serious effort to support the safety rationale of its law than did Wisconsin in Raymond, but its effort was no more persuasive. As noted above, the District Court found that the “evidence clearly establishes that the twin is as safe as the semi.” The record supports this finding. The trial focused on a comparison of the performance of the two kinds of trucks in various safety categories. The evidence showed, and the District Court found, that the 65-foot double was at least the equal of the 55-foot single in the ability to brake, turn, and maneuver. The double, because of its axle placement, produces less splash and spray in wet weather. And, because of its articulation in the middle, the double is less susceptible to dangerous “off-tracking,” and to wind.

None of these findings is seriously disputed by Iowa. Indeed, the State points to only three ways in which the 55-foot single is even arguably superior: singles take less time to be passed and to clear intersections; they may back up for longer distances; and they are somewhat less likely to jackknife.

The first two of these characteristics are of limited relevance on modern interstate highways. As the District Court found, the negligible difference in the time required to pass, and to cross intersections, is insignificant on 4-lane divided highways, because passing does not require crossing into oncoming traffic lanes, Raymond, 434 U.S. at 444, and interstates have few, if any, intersections. The concern over backing capability also is insignificant, because it seldom is necessary to back up on an interstate. In any event, no evidence suggested any difference in backing capability between the 60-foot doubles that Iowa permits and the 65-foot doubles that it bans. Similarly, although doubles tend to jackknife somewhat more than singles, 65-foot doubles actually are less likely to jackknife than 60-foot doubles.

Statistical studies supported the view that 65-foot doubles are at least as safe overall as 55-foot singles and 60-foot doubles. One such study, which the District Court credited, reviewed Consolidated’s comparative accident experience in 1978 with its own singles and doubles. Each kind of truck was driven 56 million miles on identical routes. The singles were involved in 100 accidents resulting in 27 injuries and one fatality. The 65-foot doubles were involved in 106 accidents resulting in 17 injuries and one fatality. Iowa’s expert statistician admitted that this study provided “moderately strong evidence” that singles have a higher injury rate than doubles. Another study, prepared by the Iowa Department of Transportation at the request of the state legislature, concluded that “[s]ixty-five foot twin trailer combinations have not been shown by experiences in other states to be less safe than 60-foot twin trailer combinations or conventional tractor-semitrailers.”

In sum, although Iowa introduced more evidence on the question of safety than did Wisconsin in Raymond, the record as a whole was not more favorable to the State.

B

Consolidated, meanwhile, demonstrated that Iowa’s law substantially burdens interstate commerce. Trucking companies that wish to continue to use 65-foot doubles must route them around Iowa or detach the trailers of the doubles and ship them through separately. Alternatively, trucking companies must use the smaller 55-foot singles or 65-foot doubles permitted under Iowa law. Each of these options engenders inefficiency and added expense. The record shows that Iowa’s law added about $12.6 million each year to the costs of trucking companies.

Consolidated alone incurred about $2 million per year in increased costs.

In addition to increasing the costs of the trucking companies (and, indirectly, of the service to consumers), Iowa’s law may aggravate, rather than, ameliorate, the problem of highway accidents. Fifty-five-foot singles carry less freight than 65-foot doubles. Either more small trucks must be used to carry the same quantity of goods through Iowa or the same number of larger trucks must drive longer distances to bypass Iowa. In either case, as the District Court noted, the restriction requires more highway miles to be driven to transport the same quantity of goods. Other things being equal, accidents are proportional to distance traveled. Thus, if 65-foot doubles are as safe as 55-foot singles, Iowa’s law tends to increase the number of accidents and to shift the incidence of them from Iowa to other States.

[IV. Omitted]

V

In sum, the statutory exemptions, their history, and the arguments Iowa has advanced in support of its law in this litigation all suggest that the deference traditionally accorded a State’s safety judgment is not warranted. See Raymond, supra at 434 U.S. at 444-447. The controlling factors thus are the findings of the District Court, accepted by the Court of Appeals, with respect to the relative safety of the types of trucks at issue, and the substantiality of the burden on interstate commerce.

Because Iowa has imposed this burden without any significant countervailing safety interest, its statute violates the Commerce Clause. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

It is so ordered.

Case Questions

  1. Under the Constitution, what gives Iowa the right to make rules regarding the size or configuration of trucks upon highways within the state?
  2. Did Iowa try to exempt trucking lines based in Iowa, or was the statutory rule nondiscriminatory as to the origin of trucks that traveled on Iowa highways?
  3. Are there any federal size or weight standards noted in the case? Is there any kind of truck size or weight that could be limited by Iowa law, or must Iowa simply accept federal standards or, if none, impose no standards at all?

Hunt v. Washington Apple Advertising Commission

Hunt v. Washington Apple Advertising Commission

432 U.S. 33 (U.S. Supreme Court 1977)

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1973, North Carolina enacted a statute which required, inter alia, all closed containers of apples sold, offered for sale, or shipped into the State to bear “no grade other than the applicable U.S. grade or standard.”…Washington State is the Nation’s largest producer of apples, its crops accounting for approximately 30% of all apples grown domestically and nearly half of all apples shipped in closed containers in interstate commerce. [Because] of the importance of the apple industry to the State, its legislature has undertaken to protect and enhance the reputation of Washington apples by establishing a stringent, mandatory inspection program [that] requires all apples shipped in interstate commerce to be tested under strict quality standards and graded accordingly. In all cases, the Washington State grades [are] the equivalent of, or superior to, the comparable grades and standards adopted by the [U.S. Dept. of] Agriculture (USDA).

[In] 1972, the North Carolina Board of Agriculture adopted an administrative regulation, unique in the 50 States, which in effect required all closed containers of apples shipped into or sold in the State to display either the applicable USDA grade or a notice indicating no classification. State grades were expressly prohibited. In addition to its obvious consequence—prohibiting the display of Washington State apple grades on containers of apples shipped into North Carolina—the regulation presented the Washington apple industry with a marketing problem of potentially nationwide significance. Washington apple growers annually ship in commerce approximately 40 million closed containers of apples, nearly 500,000 of which eventually find their way into North Carolina, stamped with the applicable Washington State variety and grade. [Compliance] with North Carolina’s unique regulation would have required Washington growers to obliterate the printed labels on containers shipped to North Carolina, thus giving their product a damaged appearance. Alternatively, they could have changed their marketing practices to accommodate the needs of the North Carolina market, i.e., repack apples to be shipped to North Carolina in containers bearing only the USDA grade, and/or store the estimated portion of the harvest destined for that market in such special containers. As a last resort, they could discontinue the use of the preprinted containers entirely. None of these costly and less efficient options was very attractive to the industry. Moreover, in the event a number of other States followed North Carolina’s lead, the resultant inability to display the Washington grades could force the Washington growers to abandon the State’s expensive inspection and grading system which their customers had come to know and rely on over the 60-odd years of its existence.…

Unsuccessful in its attempts to secure administrative relief [with North Carolina], the Commission instituted this action challenging the constitutionality of the statute. [The] District Court found that the North Carolina statute, while neutral on its face, actually discriminated against Washington State growers and dealers in favor of their local counterparts [and] concluded that this discrimination [was] not justified by the asserted local interest—the elimination of deception and confusion from the marketplace—arguably furthered by the [statute].

[North Carolina] maintains that [the] burdens on the interstate sale of Washington apples were far outweighed by the local benefits flowing from what they contend was a valid exercise of North Carolina’s [police powers]. Prior to the statute’s enactment,…apples from 13 different States were shipped into North Carolina for sale. Seven of those States, including [Washington], had their own grading systems which, while differing in their standards, used similar descriptive labels (e.g., fancy, extra fancy, etc.). This multiplicity of inconsistent state grades [posed] dangers of deception and confusion not only in the North Carolina market, but in the Nation as a whole. The North Carolina statute, appellants claim, was enacted to eliminate this source of deception and confusion. [Moreover], it is contended that North Carolina sought to accomplish this goal of uniformity in an evenhanded manner as evidenced by the fact that its statute applies to all apples sold in closed containers in the State without regard to their point of origin.

[As] the appellants properly point out, not every exercise of state authority imposing some burden on the free flow of commerce is invalid, [especially] when the State acts to protect its citizenry in matters pertaining to the sale of foodstuffs. By the same token, however, a finding that state legislation furthers matters of legitimate local concern, even in the health and consumer protection areas, does not end the inquiry. Rather, when such state legislation comes into conflict with the Commerce Clause’s overriding requirement of a national “common market,” we are confronted with the task of effecting an accommodation of the competing national and local interests. We turn to that task.

As the District Court correctly found, the challenged statute has the practical effect of not only burdening interstate sales of Washington apples, but also discriminating against them. This discrimination takes various forms. The first, and most obvious, is the statute’s consequence of raising the costs of doing business in the North Carolina market for Washington apple growers and dealers, while leaving those of their North Carolina counterparts unaffected. [This] disparate effect results from the fact that North Carolina apple producers, unlike their Washington competitors, were not forced to alter their marketing practices in order to comply with the statute. They were still free to market their wares under the USDA grade or none at all as they had done prior to the statute’s enactment. Obviously, the increased costs imposed by the statute would tend to shield the local apple industry from the competition of Washington apple growers and dealers who are already at a competitive disadvantage because of their great distance from the North Carolina market.

Second, the statute has the effect of stripping away from the Washington apple industry the competitive and economic advantages it has earned for itself through its expensive inspection and grading system. The record demonstrates that the Washington apple-grading system has gained nationwide acceptance in the apple trade. [The record] contains numerous affidavits [stating a] preference [for] apples graded under the Washington, as opposed to the USDA, system because of the former’s greater consistency, its emphasis on color, and its supporting mandatory inspections. Once again, the statute had no similar impact on the North Carolina apple industry and thus operated to its benefit.

Third, by prohibiting Washington growers and dealers from marketing apples under their State’s grades, the statute has a leveling effect which insidiously operates to the advantage of local apple producers. [With] free market forces at work, Washington sellers would normally enjoy a distinct market advantage vis-à-vis local producers in those categories where the Washington grade is superior. However, because of the statute’s operation, Washington apples which would otherwise qualify for and be sold under the superior Washington grades will now have to be marketed under their inferior USDA counterparts. Such “downgrading” offers the North Carolina apple industry the very sort of protection against competing out-of-state products that the Commerce Clause was designed to prohibit. At worst, it will have the effect of an embargo against those Washington apples in the superior grades as Washington dealers withhold them from the North Carolina market. At best, it will deprive Washington sellers of the market premium that such apples would otherwise command.

Despite the statute’s facial neutrality, the Commission suggests that its discriminatory impact on interstate commerce was not an unintended by-product, and there are some indications in the record to that effect. The most glaring is the response of the North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner to the Commission’s request for an exemption following the statute’s passage in which he indicated that before he could support such an exemption, he would “want to have the sentiment from our apple producers since they were mainly responsible for this legislation being passed.” [Moreover], we find it somewhat suspect that North Carolina singled out only closed containers of apples, the very means by which apples are transported in commerce, to effectuate the statute’s ostensible consumer protection purpose when apples are not generally sold at retail in their shipping containers. However, we need not ascribe an economic protection motive to the North Carolina Legislature to resolve this case; we conclude that the challenged statute cannot stand insofar as it prohibits the display of Washington State grades even if enacted for the declared purpose of protecting consumers from deception and fraud in the marketplace.

Finally, we note that any potential for confusion and deception created by the Washington grades was not of the type that led to the statute’s enactment. Since Washington grades are in all cases equal or superior to their USDA counterparts, they could only “deceive” or “confuse” a consumer to his benefit, hardly a harmful result.

In addition, it appears that nondiscriminatory alternatives to the outright ban of Washington State grades are readily available. For example, North Carolina could effectuate its goal by permitting out-of-state growers to utilize state grades only if they also marked their shipments with the applicable USDA label. In that case, the USDA grade would serve as a benchmark against which the consumer could evaluate the quality of the various state grades.…

[The court affirmed the lower court’s holding that the North Carolina statute was unconstitutional.]

Case Questions

  1. Was the North Carolina law discriminatory on its face? Was it, possibly, an undue burden on interstate commerce? Why wouldn’t it be?
  2. What evidence was there of discriminatory intent behind the North Carolina law? Did that evidence even matter? Why or why not?

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

588 U.S. ____; 130 S.Ct. 876 (U.S. Supreme Court 2010)

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

Federal law prohibits corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech defined as an “electioneering communication” or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. 2 U.S.C. §441b. Limits on electioneering communications were upheld in McConnell v. Federal Election Comm’n, 540 U.S. 93, 203–209 (2003). The holding of McConnell rested to a large extent on an earlier case, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990). Austin had held that political speech may be banned based on the speaker’s corporate identity.

In this case we are asked to reconsider Austin and, in effect, McConnell. It has been noted that “Austin was a significant departure from ancient First Amendment principles,” Federal Election Comm’n v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U.S. 449, 490 (2007) (WRTL) (Scalia, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). We agree with that conclusion and hold that stare decisis does not compel the continued acceptance of Austin. The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether. We turn to the case now before us.

I

A

Citizens United is a nonprofit corporation. It has an annual budget of about $12 million. Most of its funds are from donations by individuals; but, in addition, it accepts a small portion of its funds from for-profit corporations.

In January 2008, Citizens United released a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. We refer to the film as Hillary. It is a 90-minute documentary about then-Senator Hillary Clinton, who was a candidate in the Democratic Party’s 2008 Presidential primary elections. Hillary mentions Senator Clinton by name and depicts interviews with political commentators and other persons, most of them quite critical of Senator Clinton.…

In December 2007, a cable company offered, for a payment of $1.2 million, to make Hillary available on a video-on-demand channel called “Elections ’08.”…Citizens United was prepared to pay for the video-on-demand; and to promote the film, it produced two 10-second ads and one 30-second ad for Hillary. Each ad includes a short (and, in our view, pejorative) statement about Senator Clinton, followed by the name of the movie and the movie’s Website address. Citizens United desired to promote the video-on-demand offering by running advertisements on broadcast and cable television.

B

Before the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), federal law prohibited—and still does prohibit—corporations and unions from using general treasury funds to make direct contributions to candidates or independent expenditures that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, through any form of media, in connection with certain qualified federal elections.…BCRA §203 amended §441b to prohibit any “electioneering communication” as well. An electioneering communication is defined as “any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication” that “refers to a clearly identified candidate for Federal office” and is made within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. §434(f)(3)(A). The Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) regulations further define an electioneering communication as a communication that is “publicly distributed.” 11 CFR §100.29(a)(2) (2009). “In the case of a candidate for nomination for President…publicly distributed means” that the communication “[c]an be received by 50,000 or more persons in a State where a primary election…is being held within 30 days.” 11 CFR §100.29(b)(3)(ii). Corporations and unions are barred from using their general treasury funds for express advocacy or electioneering communications. They may establish, however, a “separate segregated fund” (known as a political action committee, or PAC) for these purposes. 2 U.S.C. §441b(b)(2). The moneys received by the segregated fund are limited to donations from stockholders and employees of the corporation or, in the case of unions, members of the union. Ibid.

C

Citizens United wanted to make Hillary available through video-on-demand within 30 days of the 2008 primary elections. It feared, however, that both the film and the ads would be covered by §441b’s ban on corporate-funded independent expenditures, thus subjecting the corporation to civil and criminal penalties under §437g. In December 2007, Citizens United sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the FEC. It argued that (1) §441b is unconstitutional as applied to Hillary; and (2) BCRA’s disclaimer and disclosure requirements, BCRA §§201 and 311, are unconstitutional as applied to Hillary and to the three ads for the movie.

The District Court denied Citizens United’s motion for a preliminary injunction, and then granted the FEC’s motion for summary judgment.

The court held that §441b was facially constitutional under McConnell, and that §441b was constitutional as applied to Hillary because it was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” 530 F. Supp. 2d, at 279. The court also rejected Citizens United’s challenge to BCRA’s disclaimer and disclosure requirements. It noted that “the Supreme Court has written approvingly of disclosure provisions triggered by political speech even though the speech itself was constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.” Id. at 281.

II

[Omitted: the court considers whether it is possible to reject the BCRA without declaring certain provisions unconstitutional. The court concludes it cannot find a basis to reject the BCRA that does not involve constitutional issues.]

III

The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” Laws enacted to control or suppress speech may operate at different points in the speech process.…The law before us is an outright ban, backed by criminal sanctions. Section 441b makes it a felony for all corporations—including nonprofit advocacy corporations—either to expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates or to broadcast electioneering communications within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election. Thus, the following acts would all be felonies under §441b: The Sierra Club runs an ad, within the crucial phase of 60 days before the general election, that exhorts the public to disapprove of a Congressman who favors logging in national forests; the National Rifle Association publishes a book urging the public to vote for the challenger because the incumbent U.S. Senator supports a handgun ban; and the American Civil Liberties Union creates a Web site telling the public to vote for a Presidential candidate in light of that candidate’s defense of free speech. These prohibitions are classic examples of censorship.

Section 441b is a ban on corporate speech notwithstanding the fact that a PAC created by a corporation can still speak. PACs are burdensome alternatives; they are expensive to administer and subject to extensive regulations. For example, every PAC must appoint a treasurer, forward donations to the treasurer promptly, keep detailed records of the identities of the persons making donations, preserve receipts for three years, and file an organization statement and report changes to this information within 10 days.

And that is just the beginning. PACs must file detailed monthly reports with the FEC, which are due at different times depending on the type of election that is about to occur.…

PACs have to comply with these regulations just to speak. This might explain why fewer than 2,000 of the millions of corporations in this country have PACs. PACs, furthermore, must exist before they can speak. Given the onerous restrictions, a corporation may not be able to establish a PAC in time to make its views known regarding candidates and issues in a current campaign.

Section 441b’s prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is thus a ban on speech. As a “restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign,” that statute “necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.” Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 at 19 (1976).…

Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. See Buckley, supra, at 14–15 (“In a republic where the people are sovereign, the ability of the citizenry to make informed choices among candidates for office is essential.”) The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it. The First Amendment “‘has its fullest and most urgent application’ to speech uttered during a campaign for political office.”

For these reasons, political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it, whether by design or inadvertence. Laws that burden political speech are “subject to strict scrutiny,” which requires the Government to prove that the restriction “furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.”

The Court has recognized that First Amendment protection extends to corporations. This protection has been extended by explicit holdings to the context of political speech. Under the rationale of these precedents, political speech does not lose First Amendment protection “simply because its source is a corporation.” Bellotti, supra, at 784. The Court has thus rejected the argument that political speech of corporations or other associations should be treated differently under the First Amendment simply because such associations are not “natural persons.”

The purpose and effect of this law is to prevent corporations, including small and nonprofit corporations, from presenting both facts and opinions to the public. This makes Austin’s antidistortion rationale all the more an aberration. “[T]he First Amendment protects the right of corporations to petition legislative and administrative bodies.” Bellotti, 435 U.S., at 792, n. 31.…

Even if §441b’s expenditure ban were constitutional, wealthy corporations could still lobby elected officials, although smaller corporations may not have the resources to do so. And wealthy individuals and unincorporated associations can spend unlimited amounts on independent expenditures. See, e.g., WRTL, 551 U.S., at 503–504 (opinion of Scalia, J.) (“In the 2004 election cycle, a mere 24 individuals contributed an astounding total of $142 million to [26 U.S.C. §527 organizations]”). Yet certain disfavored associations of citizens—those that have taken on the corporate form—are penalized for engaging in the same political speech.

When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.

What we have said also shows the invalidity of other arguments made by the Government. For the most part relinquishing the anti-distortion rationale, the Government falls back on the argument that corporate political speech can be banned in order to prevent corruption or its appearance.…

When Congress finds that a problem exists, we must give that finding due deference; but Congress may not choose an unconstitutional remedy. If elected officials succumb to improper influences from independent expenditures; if they surrender their best judgment; and if they put expediency before principle, then surely there is cause for concern. We must give weight to attempts by Congress to seek to dispel either the appearance or the reality of these influences. The remedies enacted by law, however, must comply with the First Amendment; and, it is our law and our tradition that more speech, not less, is the governing rule. An outright ban on corporate political speech during the critical preelection period is not a permissible remedy. Here Congress has created categorical bans on speech that are asymmetrical to preventing quid pro quo corruption.

Our precedent is to be respected unless the most convincing of reasons demonstrates that adherence to it puts us on a course that is sure error. “Beyond workability, the relevant factors in deciding whether to adhere to the principle of stare decisis include the antiquity of the precedent, the reliance interests at stake, and of course whether the decision was well reasoned.” [citing prior cases]

These considerations counsel in favor of rejecting Austin, which itself contravened this Court’s earlier precedents in Buckley and Bellotti. “This Court has not hesitated to overrule decisions offensive to the First Amendment.” WRTL, 551 U.S., at 500 (opinion of Scalia, J.). “[S]tare decisis is a principle of policy and not a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision.” Helvering v. Hallock, 309 U.S. 106 at 119 (1940).

Austin is undermined by experience since its announcement. Political speech is so ingrained in our culture that speakers find ways to circumvent campaign finance laws. See, e.g., McConnell, 540 U.S., at 176–177 (“Given BCRA’s tighter restrictions on the raising and spending of soft money, the incentives…to exploit [26 U.S.C. §527] organizations will only increase”). Our Nation’s speech dynamic is changing, and informative voices should not have to circumvent onerous restrictions to exercise their First Amendment rights. Speakers have become adept at presenting citizens with sound bites, talking points, and scripted messages that dominate the 24-hour news cycle. Corporations, like individuals, do not have monolithic views. On certain topics corporations may possess valuable expertise, leaving them the best equipped to point out errors or fallacies in speech of all sorts, including the speech of candidates and elected officials.

Rapid changes in technology—and the creative dynamic inherent in the concept of free expression—counsel against upholding a law that restricts political speech in certain media or by certain speakers. Today, 30-second television ads may be the most effective way to convey a political message. Soon, however, it may be that Internet sources, such as blogs and social networking Web sites, will provide citizens with significant information about political candidates and issues. Yet, §441b would seem to ban a blog post expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate if that blog were created with corporate funds. The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.

Due consideration leads to this conclusion: Austin should be and now is overruled. We return to the principle established in Buckley and Bellotti that the Government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker’s corporate identity. No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.

[IV. Omitted]

V

When word concerning the plot of the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington reached the circles of Government, some officials sought, by persuasion, to discourage its distribution. See Smoodin, “Compulsory” Viewing for Every Citizen: Mr. Smith and the Rhetoric of Reception, 35 Cinema Journal 3, 19, and n. 52 (Winter 1996) (citing Mr. Smith Riles Washington, Time, Oct. 30, 1939, p. 49); Nugent, Capra’s Capitol Offense, N. Y. Times, Oct. 29, 1939, p. X5. Under Austin, though, officials could have done more than discourage its distribution—they could have banned the film. After all, it, like Hillary, was speech funded by a corporation that was critical of Members of Congress. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington may be fiction and caricature; but fiction and caricature can be a powerful force.

Modern day movies, television comedies, or skits on YouTube.com might portray public officials or public policies in unflattering ways. Yet if a covered transmission during the blackout period creates the background for candidate endorsement or opposition, a felony occurs solely because a corporation, other than an exempt media corporation, has made the “purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit, or gift of money or anything of value” in order to engage in political speech. 2 U.S.C. §431(9)(A)(i). Speech would be suppressed in the realm where its necessity is most evident: in the public dialogue preceding a real election. Governments are often hostile to speech, but under our law and our tradition it seems stranger than fiction for our Government to make this political speech a crime. Yet this is the statute’s purpose and design.

Some members of the public might consider Hillary to be insightful and instructive; some might find it to be neither high art nor a fair discussion on how to set the Nation’s course; still others simply might suspend judgment on these points but decide to think more about issues and candidates. Those choices and assessments, however, are not for the Government to make. “The First Amendment underwrites the freedom to experiment and to create in the realm of thought and speech. Citizens must be free to use new forms, and new forums, for the expression of ideas. The civic discourse belongs to the people, and the Government may not prescribe the means used to conduct it.” McConnell, supra, at 341 (opinion of Kennedy, J.).

The judgment of the District Court is reversed with respect to the constitutionality of 2 U.S.C. §441b’s restrictions on corporate independent expenditures. The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Case Questions

  1. What does the case say about disclosure? Corporations have a right of free speech under the First Amendment and may exercise that right through unrestricted contributions of money to political parties and candidates. Can the government condition that right by requiring that the parties and candidates disclose to the public the amount and origin of the contribution? What would justify such a disclosure requirement?
  2. Are a corporation’s contributions to political parties and candidates tax deductible as a business expense? Should they be?
  3. How is the donation of money equivalent to speech? Is this a strict construction of the Constitution to hold that it is?
  4. Based on the Court’s description of the Austin case, what purpose do you think the Austin court was trying to achieve by limiting corporate campaign contributions? Was that purpose consistent (or inconsistent) with anything in the Constitution, or is the Constitution essentially silent on this issue?