DOCKET NO.: 9
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
CITATION: 382 US 111 (1965)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1965
DECIDED: Nov 22, 1965
Facts of the case
Media for Swift & Company v. Wickham
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 1965 in Swift & Company v. Wickham
Number 9, Swift & Company Incorporated, et al., Appellants versus Don J. Wickham, Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets of New York.
William J. Condon:
Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.
This action comes here from the dismissal by a three-judge statutory court in the the Second Circuit, Common District of New York of a challenge by appellants to the constitutionality of a statue of the State of New York.
The appellants Swift and Armour packed frozen stuffed turkeys in their plants in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
These are packed under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture, under the Poultry Products Inspection Act and they're shipped in interstate commerce from those plants to the various states of the union.
State of New York has a statute as part of the Agriculture Markets Law regulating net weights and the labeling thereof, which provides as applied and agreed in the Court below as proper, requires that a product such as stuffed turkey be labeled to show the net weight of the turkey and the net weight of the total product.
Appellants labeled their turkeys with just the net weight of the product.
These labels are subject to the prior approval of the Secretary of Agriculture of the United States under the Poultry Products Inspection Act.
Each has an approved label showing just a single weight.
In the early part of 1963, each appellant separately filed an application with the Department of Agriculture, requesting approval for a label, which would show separately the weight of the turkey, the weight of the stuffing and the total weight.
These labels were rejected by the poultry division, I say rejected, actually the application came back commented on only, there is testimony of the trial indicate that this is the form in which a rejection takes at the Department of Agriculture level.
And following the rejection of those labels, this lawsuit was commenced.
Appellants challenged the constitutionality of the New York Statute on several grounds.
The first ground is that of violation of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution alleging both preemption and conflict for the Federal Statue.
A violation of the Commerce Clause and interferences with the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process and Equal Protection.
Now three-judge court was convened.
Testimony was heard and at the conclusion thereof an opinion was written dismissing the complaint, it was unanimous opinion by the three judges.
At the outset I think it's necessary to discuss the question here of jurisdiction of this Court, the District Court expressed the view in its opinion that it seriously questioned whether this was properly a matter for three judges.
Of course it follows from that, but there would be some question whether it was properly a matter for direct appeal to this Court.
The Court of the view that if the problem involved only that of supremacy, that prior to this Court's decision in Kesler in any event, the District Court would have held without any problem that it was not a three judge matter.
That Section 2281 of Title 28 of three-judge statute would not apply to those circumstances and of course the Court noted however that in the Kesler situation, Mr. Justice Frankfurter writing for the Court indicated that where the conflict between the state and federal statute is immediately apparent without any serious necessity for the Court to construe statutes in order to get to the constitutional problem, that in that circumstance, Section 2281 ought to apply, the Court -- Judge Friendly speaking for the Court below noted however that in the Kesler situation it was necessary for Mr. Justice Frankfurter after making this statement to do a considerable amount of statutory construction both of the Federal Act and the State Act involved and he therefore concluded that the question before him, that is the three-judge court was whether or not this Court had been required to do more statutory construction than had been required in Kesler and then the Court rather neatly side stepped the problem by reference to the lack of sensitivity of its witness paper in suggesting that we appeal to both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court in the event that his determination or suggestion might be wrong at least no serious damage would have been done for the litigates.
This we did.
Now looking first at Kesler, I believe that there isn't any more certainly and I believe less statutory construction necessary here than was necessary in Kesler.
In that case you may recall that it was necessary for the Court to determine not only the meaning and policy of the Utah Financial Responsibility Act, but also a considerable amount of effort and attention was paid to the policy of the Federal Bankruptcy Act and indeed as I recall it, the dissenting justices didn't agree on the construction of either one exactly with that of the majority.
So that there were serious questions of construction of the statute.
Here there is no problem with respect to the construction of the New York Act at all.
There hasn't been any question about it.
We didn't challenge the interpretation of the New York Act.
There hasn't been any indication in the case or in the Court's opinion that, that was problem.