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Kentucky Whip and Collar Co. v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 299 U.S. 334; 57 S. Ct. 277; 81 L. Ed. 270 (1937)

case summary

Kentucky Whip and Collar Co. v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 299 U.S. 334; 57 S. Ct. 277; 81 L. Ed. 270 (1937)

Facts—The Ashurst-Sumners Act of 1935 made it unlawful to ship in interstate commerce goods made by convict labor into any state where the goods are intended to be received, possessed, sold, or used in violation of its laws. Packages containing convict-made goods must be plainly labeled so as to show the names and addresses of shipper and consignee, the nature of the contents, and the name and location of the penal or reformatory institution where the article was produced. The petitioner manufactured in Kentucky, with convict labor, horse collars, harness, and strap goods that were marketed in various states. The Illinois Central received twenty-five separate shipments, for transportation in interstate commerce, none of which was labeled as required. The respondent refused to accept the shipments, and the petitioner brought suit for a mandatory injunction to compel shipment.

Question—Does Congress have the power to prohibit in interstate commerce useful and harmless articles made by convict labor?


Reasons—C. J. Hughes (8–0). The congressional power to regulate commerce is complete in itself, acknowledging no other limitations than those the Constitution prescribes. The question here is whether this statute goes beyond the authority to “regulate.” The power to prohibit interstate transportation has been upheld in many cases. In fact, in the exercise of its control over interstate commerce, Congress may have the quality of police regulations. In so regulating, Congress may shape its policy to aid valid state laws in the protection of persons and property. Therefore, Congress may prevent transportation in interstate commerce of articles in which the state has the constitutional authority to forbid traffic in its internal commerce. The Ashurst-Sumners Act has substantially the same provisions as the Webb-Kenyon Act. The subject matter is different, the effects are different, but the principle is the same. Where the subject of commerce is one on which the power of a state may be constitutionally exerted, Congress may prevent interstate commerce from being used to frustrate the state policy. Labels are but a reasonable provision for carrying out the purposes of the act.

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