242 U.S. 311 (2011), Clark Distilling Company v. Western

Citation:242 U.S. 311, 37 S.Ct. 180, 61 L.Ed. 326
Party Name:Clark Distilling Company v. Western
Case Date:January 08, 1917
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 311

242 U.S. 311 (2011)

37 S.Ct. 180, 61 L.Ed. 326

Clark Distilling Company



United States Supreme Court

January 8, 1917




The West Virginia prohibition law of February, 1913, Code 1913, c. 32A, as amended by Acts of 1915, p. 33, id., p. 660, includes in its prohibitions the bringing into the state by carriers of intoxicating liquors intended for personal use and the receipt and possession of such liquors, when so introduced, for personal use.

Since the right asserted by the plaintiff is a permanent right to ship such liquors into the state, the decision concerns the state law as now amended, though the amendment occurred after the decision of the court below and after the first argument in this Court.

Without considering whether governmental power respecting intoxicating liquors extends to the prohibition of personal use, the right to restrict the means of procuring them for that purpose exists as an incident to the indubitable power to forbid manufacture and sale. Therefore these prohibitions of the West Virginia law are not offensive to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The prohibitions, however, unless sanctioned by a valid law of Congress, would be repugnant to the Constitution as a direct burden

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on interstate commerce and an interference with the power of Congress to regulate it. Leisy v. Hardin, 135 U.S. 100.

The Act of Congress of March 1, 1913, 37 Stat. 699, known as the Webb-Kenyon Act, operated, if constitutional, to give effect to the above stated prohibitions of the West Virginia law in respect of liquors shipped into the state for personal use by withdrawing from such shipments the immunity of interstate commerce, and, to forbid the shipment or transportation into the state of liquors intended to be received or possessed there for personal use contrary to such state prohibitions. Adams Express Co. v. Kentucky, 238 U.S. 190, distinguished.

The Webb-Kenyon Act is a legitimate exertion of the power to regulate commerce.

That power, in the case of intoxicants, because of their character extends to the total prohibition of their transport in interstate commerce, and necessarily includes the lesser power, exercised in the Webb-Kenyon Act, of adapting the regulation to the various local requirements and conditions that may be expressed in the laws of the states.

Such a mode of exercise involves no delegation of the power to the states.

Neither is the act objectionable as productive of a lack of uniformity. This results:

(1) Because it applies uniformly to the conditions which call it into play; its provisions apply to all the states, and

(2) Because the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce is not subject to the restriction that regulations shall be uniform throughout the United States.

The right of Congress to regulate a subject of interstate commerce, its scope, and the mode in which it may be exerted depend upon the degree of the power of Congress over the subject regulated -- viz., in this case, intoxicating liquor, and not upon those considerations which cause some subjects of interstate commerce to be under state control in the absence of congressional regulation and others to be free from state control until Congress has acted. Leisy v. Hardin, supra, explained and applied.

The Webb-Kenyon Act is not repugnant to the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

219 F. 333, id. 339, affirmed.

These were suits for injunctions compelling the defendants to accept intoxicating liquors for shipment into West Virginia. The appeals were taken from decrees of the district court dismissing the bills. The facts are stated in the opinion.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

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

To refer to the principal state law relating to these suits, to the pleadings and the decision of the court below, will make the issues in these cases clear and point directly to the elements required to be considered in deciding them.

West Virginia, in February, 1913, enacted a prohibition

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law to go into effect on July first of the following year. Code 1913, c. 32A. Putting out of view the right of druggists, under stringent regulations provided by the statute, to sell for medicinal purposes, and the right otherwise to sell wine for sacramental and alcohol for scientific and manufacturing purposes, the law forbade "the manufacture, sale, keeping or storing for sale in this state, or offering or exposing for sale," intoxicating liquors, and the intoxicants embraced were comprehensively defined. The statute contained many restrictions concerning hotels, restaurants, clubs, and so-called associations where liquor was kept and served either as a result of membership or by gift or otherwise, which were evidently intended to prevent the frustration of the prohibitions against the keeping of intoxicants for sale and purchase by subterfuge in the guise of the exercise of an individual right. There was no express prohibition against the individual right to use intoxicants, and none implied unless that result arose (a) from the prohibition in universal terms of all sales and purchases of liquor within the state, (b) from the clause providing that every delivery made in the state by a common or other carrier of the prohibited intoxicants should be considered as a consummation of a sale made in the state at the point of delivery, and (c) from the prohibitions which the statute contained against solicitations made to induce purchases of liquor, and against the publication in the state of all circulars, advertisements, price lists, etc., which might tend to stimulate purchases of liquor.

Under this statute, and in reliance upon the provisions of the act of Congress known as the Webb-Kenyon Law (Act of Congress of March 1, 1913, 37 Stat. 699), the State of West Virginia, in one of its courts, sued the Western Maryland Railroad Company and the Adams Express Company to enjoin them from carrying from Maryland into West Virginia liquor in violation of law. In substance,

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it was charged that very many shipments had been taken by the carriers contrary to the law, both as to solicitations and as to the use for which the liquor was intended. Preliminary injunctions were issued restraining the carrying of liquor into the state, subject to many conditions as to investigation, etc., etc. With these injunctions in force, these suits were commenced by the Clark Distilling Company to compel the carriers to take a shipment of liquor which it was asserted was ordered for personal use, and deliver it in West Virginia, on the ground that the Act of Congress to Regulate Commerce imposed the duty to receive and carry, and that, besides, the West Virginia prohibition law, when rightly construed, did not forbid it. The carriers, not challenging the asserted meaning of the West Virginia law, set up the injunctions [37 S.Ct. 182] and averred that to receive and carry the liquor would violate their provisions, and therefore there was no duty under the United States law to do so. West Virginia intervened in the suits, relying upon the state law and the injunctions which had been issued. At the trial, it was shown that the plaintiff Distilling Company had systematically solicited purchases and constantly shipped liquor from Maryland into West Virginia in violation of the prohibition law. The court held that the West Virginia law did not prohibit personal use, and did not forbid shipments for such use, and that, as there was no state prohibition, the Webb-Kenyon Law had no application, and that, as the solicitations forbidden by the state statute were solicitations to do that which was forbidden, that consideration was irrelevant. The construction of the statute made by the state court was held not authoritatively binding, as that court was not one of last resort, and the right to practically modify the injunctions was declared to exist because West Virginia, by making herself a party to the suits, had submitted herself to the jurisdiction of the court. All questions concerning the power of the State of West Virginia

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to pass the prohibition law if it meant otherwise, and of the right of Congress to adopt the Webb-Kenyon Act under a like hypothesis, were reserved. 219 F. 333. Before the decrees entered became final, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in a case pending before it (West Virginia v. Adams exp. Company, 219 F. 794), decided directly to the contrary. It held that the law of West Virginia did prohibit shipments for personal use; that it did forbid solicitations therefore for such purchases; that, by operation of the Webb-Kenyon Act, there was no longer a right to ship liquor into the state in violation of its laws, and that both the state law and the Webb-Kenyon Act were constitutional. Controlled by such decision, the trial court recalled its opinion, heard a reargument, and, although not changing its view, accepted and gave effect to the conclusions reached by the circuit court of appeals because they were deemed to be authoritative, and the cases were brought directly here, because of the constitutional questions, to review such action.

The issues to be decided may by embraced in four propositions which we proceed separately to consider.

1. The correct meaning of the West Virginia law as to the subjects in dispute.

The difference as to the meaning of the statute in the court below was whether or not the West Virginia law prohibited the receipt of liquor for personal use, and, if it did, whether or not the prohibitions of the law equally applied to shipments from outside...

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