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Kidd v. Pearson


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128 U.S. 1 (1888), argued 4 Apr. 1888, decided 22 Oct. 1888 by vote of 8 to 0; Lamar for the Court, Woods deceased. An Iowa statute prohibited the manufacture of liquor for shipment outside the state. The measure was challenged as an unconstitutional regulation of interstate commerce by a state. The Supreme Court held that the statute did not interfere with federal commerce power and that it was a simple police power regulation, well within a state's authority. At least when liquor, a putatively noxious product, was the subject, Kidd demonstrated the willingness of the Court to uphold the police powers of the states.

The real significance of the case lay in its definition of “commerce.” The Court drew a distinction between commerce and manufacturing, holding that commerce did not begin until manufacture was completed. But if congressional power under the Commerce Clause did not encompass production, federal regulations could not be constitutionally applied to manufacturing, agricultural, or extractive industries. The Court gradually deserted this holding over the years, broadening the permissible scope of federal regulation and correspondingly narrowing state power.

On the exact point of state liquor laws, however, Kidd is not good law today. To the extent that Congress wishes to exercise its powers under the Commerce Clause, it may undercut or negate state liquor laws.

Loren P. Beth

Subjects: Law.


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