Nebbia v. New York

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291 U.S. 502 (1934), argued 4–5 Dec. 1933, decided 5 Mar. 1934 by vote of 5 to 4; Roberts for the Court, McReynolds, Butler, Sutherland, and Van Devanter in dissent. Nebbia involved emergency legislation passed by New York State to ease some of the economic hardships brought on by the Great Depression. Leo Nebbia, a grocer in Rochester, New York, broke the Milk Control Act of 1933 by selling a quart of milk for more than the fixed maximum price of nine cents a quart. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Nebbia's conviction was sustained and the New York law was ruled constitutional.

In the majority opinion, Justice Owen Roberts abandoned the “affected with public interest” doctrine that the Court had adhered to since the late nineteenth century and concluded that a state “may regulate a business in any of its aspects, including the prices to be charged for the products or commodities it sells.” He added that “a state is free to adopt whatever economic policy may reasonably be deemed to promote public welfare, and to enforce that policy by legislation adapted to its purpose” (pp. 502, 537).

In dissent, Justice James McReynolds voiced the slippery substantive due process argument, maintaining that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment gave the justices license to sustain economic legislation they found reasonable and strike down laws they believed to be unreasonable.

John W. Johnson

Subjects: Law.

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