Law School Case Brief
J. W. Hampton, Jr., & Co. v. United States - 276 U.S. 394, 48 S. Ct. 348 (1928)
The Congress may not delegate its purely legislative power to a commission but, having laid down the general rules of action under which a commission shall proceed, it may require of that commission the application of such rules to particular situations and the investigation of facts, with a view to making orders in a particular matter within the rules laid down by the Congress
Plaintiff was an importer of barium dioxide, which the collector of customs assessed at the dutiable rate of six cents per pound. This was two cents per pound more than that fixed by statute, par. 12, ch. 356, 42 Stat. 858, 860. The rate was raised by the collector by virtue of the proclamation of the President, 45 Treas. Dec. 669, T. D. 40216, issued under, and by authority of, § 315 of Title III of the Tariff Act of September 21, 1922, ch. 356, 42 Stat. 858, 941, which is the so-called flexible tariff provision. Protest was made and an appeal was taken under § 514, Part 3, Title IV, ch. 356, 42 Stat. 969-70. The case came on for hearing before the United States Customs Court, 49 Treas. Dec. 593. A majority held the Act constitutional. Thereafter, the case was appealed to the United States Court of Customs Appeals. Subsequently, the Attorney General certified that in his opinion the case was of such importance as to render expedient its review by the United States Supreme Court.
Did the delegation of commerce power to the Executive Branch in the Tariff Act violate the Separate of Powers?
The Court affirmed because the statute at issue was constitutional and Congress acted within its authority when giving the executive branch the power to increase the tariffs as long as the tariffs fell within the rules set by Congress. A decision affirming the application of the increased rate as proclaimed by the President under the authority of § 315 of Title III of the Tariff Act of September 21, 1922, 19 U.S.C.S. §§ 154, 156, was affirmed. Congress could not delegate its purely legislative power to a commission, but, having laid down the general rules under which a commission should proceed, it could require of that commission the application of such rules to particular situations. The same principle that permitted Congress to exercise its rate making power in interstate commerce and enabled it to remit to a rate-making body created in accordance with its provisions the fixing of such rates justified a similar provision for the fixing of customs duties on imported merchandise. The motive of Congress and the effect of its legislative action were to secure revenue for the benefit of the general government. The existence of other motives in the selection of the subjects of taxes did not invalidate the statute.
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