American Constitutional Law: Introductory Essays & Selected Cases

By Alpheus Thomas Mason; William M. Beaney | Go to book overview
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Carter v. Carter Coal Co.

298 U.S. 238, 56 S.Ct. 855, 80 L.Ed. 1160 ( 1936)

In the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act of 1935 Congress attempted to stabilize the production and marketing of coal. The Act provided for a National Bituminous Coal Commission with general supervisory powers over the industry through a Bituminous Coal Code. In each of 23 districts, boards were to be given the power to fix minimum coal prices. National hours of labor agreements and district minimum wage agreements were to be effective when the producers of two-thirds of the annual tonnage and representatives of more than one-half of the employed workers agreed to terms. A labor board in the Department of Labor was given the duty of protecting the collective bargaining process and adjudicating labor disputes.

Producers were to be induced to accept these codes by a tax provision that allowed 90 per cent of a tax of 15 per cent on sales at the mines to be refunded to those producers who accepted the code provisions. In the Act, Congress also stated that the provisions of the Act were separable, and the possible invalidity of one should not affect the constitutionality of other sections. A number of cases involving suits to bar Payment of the tax and acceptance of the Code were consolidated on certiorari from Circuit Courts of Appeals and from District Courts. The majority of the Supreme Court held that the delegation of code-drafting power to a part of the producers and workers to be invalid. The following excerpts from the opinion deal principally with the issue of whether federal regulation of mining activities was permissible under the commerce clause.

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court....

The general rule with regard to the respective powers of the national and the state governments under the Constitution is not in doubt. The States were before the Constitution; and, consequently, their legislative powers antedated the Constitution. Those who framed and those who adopted that instrument meant to carve from the general mass of legislative powers, then possessed by the States, only such portions as it was thought wise to confer upon the federal government; and in order that there should be no uncertainty in respect of what was taken and what was left, the national powers of legislation were not aggregated but enumerated-with the result that what was not embraced by the enumeration remained vested in the States without change or impairment.... While the States are not sovereign in the true sense of that term, but only quasi-sovereign, yet in respect of all powers reserved to them they are supreme -- "as independent of the general government as that


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American Constitutional Law: Introductory Essays & Selected Cases
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