William Austin v. State of Tennessee

Decision Date19 November 1900
Docket NumberNo. 25,25
Citation21 S.Ct. 132,45 L.Ed. 224,179 U.S. 343
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

The facts are stated in the opinion.

This was a writ of error to review the conviction of Austin for the sale of cigarettes in violation of an act of the general assembly of Tennessee (Acts of 1897, chap. 30) the material portion of which reads as follows:

'Be it enacted by the general assembly of the state of Tennessee, That it shall be a misdemeanor for any person, firm, or corporation to sell, offer to sell, or to bring into the state for the purpose of selling, giving away, or otherwise disposing of, any cigarettes, cigarette paper, or substitute for the same; and a violation of any of the provisions of this act shall be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $50.'

Defendant was convicted in the circuit court of Monroe county, fined $50, and committed until the fine should be paid; and upon appeal to the supreme court of Tennessee the judgment of the circuit court was affirmed. 101 Tenn. 563, 48 S. W. 305.

Mr. Justice Brown delivered the opinion of the court:

It is charged that the act in question, in its application to the facts of this case, is an infringement upon the exclusive power of Congress to regulate commerce between the states. This is the sole question presented for our determination.

We are not disposed to question the general principle that the states cannot, under the guise of inspection or revenue laws, forbid or impede the introduction of products, and more particularly of food products, universally recognized as harmless (Minnesota v. Barber, 136 U. S. 313, 34 L. ed. 455, 3 Inters. Com. Rep. 185, 10 Sup. Ct. Rep. 862; Brimmer v. Rebman, 138 U. S. 78, 34 L. ed. 862, 3 Inters. Com. Rep. 485, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 213), or otherwise burden foreign or interstate commerce by regulations adopted under the assumed police power of the state, but obviously for the purpose of taxing such commerce or creating discriminations in favor of home producers or manufacturers. Passenger Cases, 7 How. 283, 12 L. ed. 702; Welton v. Missouri, 91 U. S. 275, 23 L. ed. 347; Ilendcrson v. New York, 92 U. S. 259, sub nom. Henderson v. Wickham, 23 L. ed. 543; Hannibal & St. J. R. Co. v. Husen, 95 U. S. 465, 24 L. ed. 527; Guy v. Baltimore, 100 U. S. 434, 25 L. ed. 743; Ward v. Maryland, 12 Wall. 418, 20 L. ed. 449; New York v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 107 U. S. 59, 27 L. ed. 383, 2 Sup. Ct. Rep. 87. In this connection we indorse fully what was said by this court in Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U. S. 623, 661, 31 L. ed. 205, 210, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 273: 'If, therefore, a statute purporting to have been enacted to protect the public health, the public morals, or the public safety has no real or substantial relation to those objects, or is a palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law, it is the duty of the courts to so adjudge, and thereby give effect to the Constitution.'

The supreme court of Tennessee placed its decision of this case upon two grounds: First, that cigarettes were not legiti- mate articles of commerce; second, that the sale shown to have been made was not the sale of an original package in the true commercial sense.

1. We are not prepared to fully indorse the opinion of that court upon the first point. Whatever product has from time immemorial been recognized by custom or law as a fit subject for barter or sale, particularly if its manufacture has been made the subject of Federal regulation and taxation, must, we think, be recognized as a legitimate article of commerce although it may to a certain extent be within the police power of the states. Of this class of cases is tobacco. From the first settlement of the colony of Virginia to the present day tobacco has been one of the most profitable and important products of agriculture and commerce, and while its effects may be injurious to some, its extensive use over practically the entire globe is a remarkable tribute to its popularity and value. We are clearly of opinion that it cannot be classed with diseased cattle or meats, decayed fruit, or other articles, the use of which is a menace to the health of the entire community. Congress, too, has recognized tobacco in its various forms as a legitimate article of commerce by requiring licenses to be taken for its manufacture and sale, imposing a revenue tax upon each package of cigarettes put upon the market, and by making express regulations for their manufacture and sale, their exportation and importation. Cigarettes are but one of the numerous manufactures of tobacco, and we cannot take judicial notice of the fact that it is more noxious in this form than in any other. Whatever might be our individual views as to its deleterious tendencies, we cannot hold that any article which Congress recognizes in so many ways is not a legitimate article of commerce. The language of Chief Justice Taney in the License Cases, 5 How. 504, 12 L. ed. 256, with reference to intoxicating liquors is so pertinent to this case that it deserves to be here repeated:

'But spirits and distilled liquors are universally admitted to be subjects of ownership and property, and are therefore subjects of exchange, barter, and traffic, like any other commodity in which a right of property exists. And Congress, under its general power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, may prescribe what article of merchandise shall be admitted and what excluded; and may, therefore, admit or not, as it shall deem best, the importation of ardent spirits. And inasmuch as the laws of Congress authorize their importation, no state has a right to prohibit their introduction.'

'But I do not understand the law of Massachusetts or Rhode Island as interfering with the trade in ardent spirits while the article remains a part of foreign commerce, and is in the hands of the importer for sale, in the cask or vessel in which the laws of Congress authorize it to be imported. These state laws act altogether upon the retail or domestic traffic within their respective borders. They act upon the article after it has passed the line of foreign commerce, and become a part of the general mass of property in the state. These laws may, indeed, discourage imports, and diminish the price which ardent spirits would otherwise bring. But although a state is bound to receive and to permit the sale by the importer of any article of merchandise which Congress authorizes to be imported, it is not bound to furnish a market for it, nor to abstain from the passage of any law which it may deem necessary or advisable to guard the health or morals of its citizens, although such law may discourage importation, or diminish the profits of the importer, or lessen the revenue of the general government. And if any state deems the retail and internal traffic in ardent spirits injurious to its citizens, and calculated to produce idleness, vice, or debauchery, I see nothing in the Constitution of the United States to prevent it from regulating and restraining the traffic, or from prohibiting it altogether, if it thinks proper.'

The same ruling with regard to the power of the states to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquors was made in Bartemyer v. Iowa, 18 Wall. 129, 21 L. ed. 929, in which it was held the right to sell such liquors was not a privilege or immunity which, by the 14th Amendment, the states were forbidden to abridge. And in the later case of Boston Beer Co. v. Massachusetts, 97 U. S. 25, 24 L. ed. 989, it was held that a company chartered 'for the purpose of manufacturing malt liquors in all their varieties' held its franchise subject to the police power of the state, and that, if the public safety or public morals required the discontinuance of such manufactures, the legislature might so provide, notwithstanding individuals and corporations might thereby suffer inconvenience. In Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U. S. 623, 31 L. ed. 205, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 273, and Kidd v. Pearson, 128 U. S. 1, 32 L. ed. 346, 2 Inters. Com. Rep. 232, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 6, the principle of this case was extended so far as to hold that such laws might be enforced against persons who, at the time, happened to own property whose chief value consisted in its fitness for manufacturing intoxicating liquors, without compensating them for the diminution in value resulting from such prohibitory enactments; and in Foster v. Kansas ex rel. Johnston, 112 U. S. 201, 28 L. ed. 629, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 8, 97, it was regarded as the settled doctrine of this court that such laws, prohibiting the sale and manufacture of intoxicating liquors, were not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.

How far such laws could be made applicable to articles admitted to be innocuous has never been decided by this court. Nor is it necessary to the decision of this case. It was held, however, in Powell v. Pennsylvania, 127 U. S. 678, 32 L. ed. 253, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 992, 1257, that a statute of Pennsylvania prohibiting the manufacture or sale of oleomargarine was a lawful exercise by the state of its power to protect by police regulations the public health, and that it neither denied to persons within the jurisdiction of the state the equal protection of the laws, nor deprived them of their property without compensation, and was not otherwise repugnant to the 14th Amendment. Said Mr. Justice Harlan: 'It [this court] cannot adjudge that the defendant's rights of liberty and property, as thus defined, have been infringed by the statute of Pennsylvania, without holding that, although it may have been enacted in good faith for the objects expressed in its title, namely, to protect the public health and to prevent the adulteration of dairy products and fraud in the sale thereof, it has, in fact, no real or substantial relation to those objects. The court is unable to affirm that this legislation has no real or substantial relation to such...

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