Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Oregon

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223 U.S. 118 (1912), argued 3 Nov. 1911, decided 19 Feb. 1912 by vote of 9 to 0; White for the Court. Early in the twentieth century, reformers wanted to make government more responsive to the people. In 1902, Oregon led the way by enacting the initiative and referendum, devices that gave citizens the opportunity to directly propose and/or vote on the laws that would govern them. In 1906, Oregonians proposed and passed a tax of 2 percent on the gross revenues of telephone and telegraph companies in the state. Deprived of its lobbying strength in the legislature, one such company refused to pay the tax and was sued by the state. The company lost in the Oregon courts and appealed, arguing that the Constitution's guarantee to the states of a republican government meant that law-making was the exclusive responsibility of the legislature.

That the company could really have expected the Supreme Court to invalidate the initiative procedure and throw Oregon into legal chaos stretched the credulity of the justices. They refused jurisdiction, saying that the matter was political and not judicial. Chief Justice Edward D. White quoted heavily from Luther v. Borden (1848) in concluding that only Congress could provide a remedy.

John E. Semonche

Subjects: Law.

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