Clark Distilling Co. v. Western Maryland Railway Co.

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242 U.S. 311 (1917), argued 10–11 May 1915, ordered for reargument 1 Nov. 1915, reargued 8–9 Nov. 1916, decided 8 Jan. 1917 by vote of 7 to 2; White for the Court, Holmes and Van Devanter in dissent. Responding to Anti-Saloon League complaints that it was impossible to enforce state prohibition laws in the face of a flood of interstate liquor shipments, Congress in February 1913 enacted the Webb-Kenyon Act forbidding the shipment of intoxicating liquor into a state in violation of its laws. President William H. Taft vetoed the act as unconstitutional, on the basis of a series of Court rulings that the Commerce Clause required common carriers to accept interstate shipments of liquor as not subject to state law until after received by the consignee. Congress immediately overrode Taft's veto, and shortly West Virginia obtained an injunction against the Western Maryland Railway and the Adams Express Companies to prevent them from carrying liquor into West Virginia in violation of its law against manufacture, sale, or possession of intoxicating liquors. The Clark Distilling Company sued Western and Adams to compel the carriers to accept shipments of liquor that had been ordered for personal use, which was not explicitly forbidden, and deliver them in West Virginia.

Anti-Saloon League general counsel Wayne Wheeler defended the Webb-Kenyon law before the Supreme Court because the Justice Department declined to do so. The Court held that while the unquestionable power of the government to regulate interstate commerce in intoxicating liquors did not have to be fully or uniformly exercised, it did extend to prohibiting interstate commerce in violation of state law. This validation of the Webb-Kenyon Law bolstered temperance forces on the eve of the 1917 congressional battle over adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment.

David E. Kyvig

Subjects: Law.

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