Weaver v. Palmer Bros. Co.
270 U.S. 402 (1926)

  • Pennsylvania noticed that companies making bedcovers (aka ‘comfortables’) were sometimes stuffing them with filthy rags and cut up secondhand clothing (aka ‘shoddy’). Because of worries about communicable diseases, they passed a Statute forbidding the practice.
    • Secondhand clothing was often filthy with lice and mold.
  • Palmer Brothers was charged with violating the law.
  • The US Supreme Court found Pennsylvania’s consumer protection law to be unconstitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that it is within a State’s police powers to make laws to protect public health.
    • However, the Court found that the rags could easily be sterilized, and there was no evidence that lots of people were getting sick, so there was no health concern.
      • Therefore, the law was unreasonable and arbitrary, and an unconstitutional interference with the freedom of contract included within the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
  • This case is an early example of how the US Supreme Court will overturn laws that are overbroad. The law could have just required companies to wash the rags before using them. That would have been much less restrictive and still solved the problem. Since there was a less restrictive solution, the Court struck down the law.