United States v. United Foods, Inc.

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:United Foods, Inc.
LOCATION:Medical University of South Carolina

DOCKET NO.: 00-276
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 533 US 405 (2001)
ARGUED: Apr 17, 2001
DECIDED: Jun 25, 2001

Barbara B. McDowell – Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner
Laurence H. Tribe – Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

The Mushroom Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act mandates that fresh mushroom handlers pay assessments used primarily to fund advertisements promoting mushroom sales. United Foods, Inc. refused to pay the assessment, claiming that it violated the First Amendment. Ultimately, United Foods sought review in the District Court. In granting the Government summary judgement, the court relied on Glickman v. Wileman Brothers & Elliott, Inc., which held that the First Amendment was not violated when agricultural marketing orders, as part of a larger regulatory marketing scheme, required producers of California tree fruit to pay assessments for product advertising. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held that Glickman did not control because the mandated payments in this case were not part of a comprehensive statutory agricultural marketing program.


Do mandatory advertising assessments imposed on mushroom producers and handlers under the Mushroom Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act violate the First Amendment?

Media for United States v. United Foods, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 17, 2001 in United States v. United Foods, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 25, 2001 in United States v. United Foods, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in United States versus United Foods, No. 00-276.

Four terms ago in Glickman v. Wileman Brothers, we rejected a First Amendment challenge of the constitutionality of a series of agricultural marketing orders.

As part of a larger regulatory marketing scheme, those orders required producers of certain California tree fruits to pay assessments for product advertising.

In the case now before us, a federal statue mandates assessments on the handlers of fresh mushrooms for product advertising.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found the mandated payments were not part of a more comprehensive statutory program for marketing, and it held the assessments were invalid under the First Amendment.

We granted certiorari and in an opinion for the Court authored by Justice Kennedy we affirm.

We have used standards for determining the validity of speech regulations, which accord less protection to commercial speech than to other expression.

Even when we to view commercial speech as entitled to some lesser of protection, we find no basis in either Glickman or under our First Amendment precedents to sustain the compelled assessment sought in this case.

First Amendment values are at serious risk if the government can compel a particular citizen or a discrete group of citizens to pay subsidies for speech on the side that it favors, and there is no apparent principle, which would accept minor debates such as those about mushrooms in this case, from that general principle.

The program sustained in Glickman differs from the one under review in a fundamental aspect.

In Glickman the mandated assessments for speech were ancillary to a more comprehensive program restricting market autonomy.

Here, for all practical purposes, the advertising itself, far from being ancillary, is the principle object of the regulatory scheme.

Mushroom producers are not forced to associate as a group, which makes cooperative decisions.

A proper application of the rule in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a long standing precedent of this Court, requires us to invalidate the instant statutory scheme.

Under Abood only an overriding associational purpose allows any compelled subsidy for speech.

Here the only program the government contends the compelled contributions serve is the very advertising scheme in question.

Were it sufficient to say speech is germane to itself, the limits observed in the Abood line of cases would be empty of meaning in significance.

So, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Justices Stevens and Thomas have filed concurring opinions; Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Ginsburg joins, and in which Justice O’Connor joins as to parts 1 and 3.