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Until Congress has exercised its power on the subject, state quarantine laws and state laws for the purpose of preventing, eradicating or controlling the spread of contagious or infectious diseases, are not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, although their operation affects interstate or foreign commerce.
Plaintiff, a corporation created by and existing under the laws of the Republic of France and a citizen of said republic, caused its steamship Britannia to be cleared from the ports of Marseilles, France, and Palermo, Italy, for New Orleans with a cargo of merchandise and with about 408 passengers. Pursuant to a resolution adopted by the Board of Health, plaintiff’s steamship was prevented from entering the locality infested with a contagious disease in Louisiana. Plaintiff instituted the present action against the Board of Health of the State of Louisiana and the three persons who were members of said board, arguing that the resolution was ultra vires, and hence, the members of the board who voted for it were personally liable for the enforcement of the resolution. It was moreover averred that the action of the board was in violation of the laws of the United States, and the rules and regulations made in pursuance thereof, relating to quarantine and immigration from foreign countries into ports of the United States, and especially acts of Congress approved February 15, 1893, and acts of Congress of March 3, 1893, August 3, 1872, and June 26, 1884, and the rules and regulations made in pursuance thereof, and of the treaties now existing between the United States, on the one part, and the Kingdom of Italy and the Republic of France on the other part. The defendants filed a peremptory exception of no cause of action, which was sustained by the trial court, and the suit was therefore dismissed. On appeal to the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. Plaintiff challenged the decision.
Did the action of the Board, which quarantined the part of the state infected by contagious disease, violate the constitution, treaty, or any act of Congress?
On appeal, the court affirmed. The court held that until Congress had exercised its power on the subject, state quarantine laws and state laws for the purpose of preventing, eradicating, or controlling the spread of contagious or infectious diseases were not repugnant to the United State Constitution, although their operation affected interstate or foreign commerce. States had the power to regulate by health laws the subjects of legitimate commerce until Congress acted, to incidentally regulate by health and quarantine laws, even though interstate and foreign commerce was affected. The power to absolutely prohibit was valid where the act prohibited was not commerce, and hence not embraced in either interstate or foreign commerce.