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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Carolene Prods. Co. - 304 U.S. 144, 58 S. Ct. 778 (1938)


There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten amendments, which are deemed equally specific when held to be embraced within the Fourteenth Amendment. It is unnecessary to consider whether legislation which restricts those political processes which can ordinarily be expected to bring about repeal of undesirable legislation, is to be subjected to more exacting judicial scrutiny under the general prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment than are most other types of legislation. On restrictions upon the right to vote, on restraints upon the dissemination of information, on interference with political organizations, and as to prohibition of peaceable assembly. Nor need the Court inquire whether similar considerations enter into the review of statutes directed at particular religious, or racial minorities, whether prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry.


The United States obtained an indictment against a corporation for a violation of the Filled Milk Act (Act), which prohibited the shipment of adulterated milk in interstate commerce. The trial court sustained the corporation's demurrer. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.


Is the Filled Milk Act a valid exercise of legislative power?




The Court first declared the Act a valid exercise of congressional power under the Commerce Clause. The Court then held that the Act did not infringe the Fifth Amendment, as nothing in the guarantee of due process prohibited a national or state legislature from enacting laws for the protection of their citizens. Further, the Court noted the presumption of constitutionality inherent in legislative acts. The Court held that its function, at least with respect to acts not implicating specific constitutional prohibitions, restricting political processes aimed at the repeal of undesirable legislation, or prejudicing "discrete and insular minorities," was to determine if a rational basis existed for the act, and if so, to uphold it.

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