United States v. Carolene Products Co.
304 U.S. 144 (1938)

  • Congress passed the Filled Milk Act, which prohibited mixing vegetable oil to skim milk to make it look like cream.
  • Caroline Products made an imitation milk product and was fined. They appealed.
    • Caroline argued that the Filled Milk Act was be unconstitutional because it interfered with the freedom of contract included within the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the Filled Milk Act.
    • The US Supreme Court found that that government can interfere with freedom of contract only to serve a valid police purpose of protecting public health, public safety or public morals.
      • In this case, the government was protecting public health by assuring nutritious, unadulterated products.
  • This case is famous for it’s dicta (Footnote 4), which said that in general, the courts should defer to government economic regulations, with more aggressive judicial review reserved for cases involving fundamental rights and “discrete and insular minorities,” or there is a clear, specific prohibition in the Constitution.
    • That’s a major change in how the Court approached constitutional jurisprudence. Prior to this case, the Court routinely overturned government economic regulations for being in violation of the vague wording of the concept of freedom of contract in the Constitution.
    • The basic idea espoused in Footnote 4 is that if possible, the courts should leave regulation to the political process, and only intervene in cases where the political process is broken.
    • The concept laid out in Footnote 4 served as the basis for modern judicial review of Constitutional Law issues.
      • If there is no fundamental right or suspect class involved, then the courts will uphold the law as long as there is a rational basis for it.
      • If there is a fundamental right or suspect class involved, the courts will only uphold the law if it meets strict scrutiny.