Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495; 55 S. Ct. 837; 79 L. Ed. 1570 (1935)

Facts—The A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. was convicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on an indictment charging violations of what was known as the “Live Poultry Code,” established by executive order under the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The Circuit Court of Appeals sustained the conviction in the district court on sixteen counts for violation of the code but reversed the conviction on two counts that charged violation of requirements as to minimum wages and maximum hours of labor, as these were not deemed to be within the congressional power of regulation. The NIRA provided for the setting up of codes that would establish certain standards that were to be upheld under force of civil and criminal action. If an industry did not set up its own code, it would be up to the president to impose a code upon it. Schechter was a poultry dealer in New York City and disregarded the code. When tried, he was found guilty on eighteen counts. He then took the case to the Supreme Court.

Question—(a) Was the act an illegal delegation of legislative powers?

(b) Was the poultry in this case considered within the domain of the interstate commerce power of Congress?

Decision—(a) Yes; (b) No.

Reasons—C.J. Hughes (9–0). (a) The act set no standard or rules of conduct to be followed. It was too broad a declaration, leaving the president too much room for discretion. The act left virtually untouched the field of policy. The president in approving a code could impose his own conditions. It was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. The Constitution provides that “all legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives,” and the Congress is authorized “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” its general powers. The Congress is not permitted to abdicate or to transfer to others the essential legislative functions with which it is thus vested.

(b) Although the poultry came from various states, when it arrived in New York it remained there and was processed. Congress could regulate it until it reached New York; after that it was intrastate commerce and as such Congress could not control it.

J. Cardozo wrote a notable concurring opinion in which he focused on what he considered to be untrammelled delegation of congressional legislative powers.

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