Ferguson v. Skrupa Case Brief

Why is the case important?

A Kansas statute made it a misdemeanor for any person to engage in the business of debt adjusting. It was challenged as a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Facts of the case

“A Kansas statute made it a misdemeanor to enter into contracts for “”debt adjusting”” (a practice in which a debtor agrees to pay a monthly fee to an adjustor who then makes payments to the debtor’s creditor). Skrupa was in business as a “”Credit Advisor”” and engaged in this practice. A lower court held that the Kansas statute was an “”unreasonable regulation of a lawful business”” and struck it down.”

Question

Did the Kansas statute outlawing a person from engaging in debt adjusting violate the Due Process Clause?

Answer

Justice Black opinion.
It is up to the legislatures, not the courts, to decide the wisdom and utility of the legislation. There was a time when the Court would strike down laws, which were thought unreasonable, that is unwise or incompatible with some particular economic or social philosophy. The Due Process Clause was used by the Court to strike down laws, which regulated maximum hours for work in bakeries, outlawing yellow dog contracts, and setting minimum wages for women.
The doctrine that prevailed in Lochner, Coppage, Adkins, Burns and similar cases, that due process authorizes courts to hold laws unconstitutional when they believe the legislature has acted unwise, has long since been discarded. Courts do not substitute their social and economic beliefs for the judgment of the legislative bodies that are elected to pass laws.
The Kansas Legislature was free to decide for itself that legislation was needed to deal with the business of debt adjusting. Any arguments in favor of debt adjusting are properly addressed to the legislature, not to the courts.
Concurrence. Justice Harlan concurred with the judgment on the ground that this state measure bears a rational relation to a constitutionally permissible objective. See Williamson v. Lee Optical.

Conclusion

“The legislation did not violate the Due Process Clause. States had the power to legislate against what were found to be injurious practices in their internal commercial and business affairs so long as their laws did not run afoul of some specific federal constitutional prohibition or of some valid federal law. When the subject lay within the State’s police power, debatable questions as to reasonableness were not for the courts but for the legislature. The Court further held that the statute’s exception of lawyers did not constitute a denial of equal protection of the laws to non-lawyers. Statutes created many classifications that did not deny equal protection

  • it was only invidious discrimination that offended the Constitution.”
    • Case Brief: 1963
    • Appellant: Ferguson
    • Appellee: Skrupa
    • Decided by: Warren Court

    Citation: 372 US 726 (1963)
    Argued: Mar 20, 1963
    Decided: Apr 22, 1963