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MERRICK ET AL. v. N.W. HALSEY & COMPANY ET AL.

January 22, 1917

MERRICK ET AL
v.
N.W. HALSEY & COMPANY ET AL., AND THE WEIS FIBRE CONTAINER CORPORATION



APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds, Brandeis, Clarke

Author: Mckenna

[ 242 U.S. Page 584]

 MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

The statute of Michigan is the same as the statutes of South Dakota and Ohio, and our reply to the attacks made upon it might be rested upon our discussion of those statutes.

But in the present case, as we have said elsewhere, the arguments, while fundamentally the same, are in some respects more circumstantial. All the supposed consequences of the law are dilated upon -- wherein, as it is contended, it meddles with or burdens a business asserted to be legitimate, wherein it prohibits or gives power to an executive officer to arbitrarily prohibit such business, and wherein it confuses legislative and executive powers, and in these ways and other ways, as it is further contended, transgresses the Constitution of the United States. Many cases are cited to support the contentions and publicists are avouched to the same end. In our discussion we cannot be as elaborate in details as counsel, nor is it necessary. There are certain outside propositions upon which all others may be regarded as dependent. These propositions were considered in the other cases and we need now only supplement what was there said.

The appellants justify the law by the police power of the State and its comprehensive reach. Replying, appellees urge against it the limitations of the Fourteenth Amendment

[ 242 U.S. Page 585]

     and the national supremacy over interstate commerce; and applying the Fourteenth Amendment, assert in many ways (we select one and upon it the changes are rung) that the issue of the securities "is in effect the making of contracts 'proper and necessary and essential' to the pursuit of lawful livelihoods or avocations," and cannot be "made the subject of discretionary executive license," controlling thereby individual transactions.

The assertion encounters immediately many cases in which laws have been sustained limiting the making of contracts and regulating business through executive agencies and necessarily controlling individual transactions. Indeed, there are too many for even marginal citation. They, however, are attempted to be distinguished or restricted. It is said by counsel that they "deal with administrative control over matters of public right or public grant or existing at public sufferance." And it is admitted that "the Legislature may deal drastically with many matters of private right, to prevent or redress individual wrongs." It is further admitted that "drastic remedies may be prescribed by law [italics ours] for evils deemed by the Legislature to require them." Excluding the proposition so expressed from application to the Michigan law, it is insisted that the business to which it applies "neither requires nor justifies, nor is susceptible of, administrative or executive control for the purpose of preventing a wrong or injury by one individual to another." Of course, the implication, if not the direct assertion, is that the business of dealing in securities has not that character. Neither the principle nor the assertion is very tangible. The first incidence of any evil from a business or conduct is upon some individual and through the individual (let us say individuals, for necessarily there are more than one) upon the community, nor can it be affected in any other way. Besides, it is for the State to judge in such circumstances and the judgment and its

[ 242 U.S. Page 586]

     execution would have to be palpably arbitrary to justify the interference of the courts. Counsel, indeed, frankly concedes the evil of "get-rich-quick" schemes and quotes the banking commissioner of the State of Kansas for the statement that the "Blue Sky" law of that State had saved the people of the State $6,000,000 since its enactment and that between 1400 and 1500 companies had been investigated by the department and less than 400 of the number granted permits to sell securities in the State. Counsel also quotes the confidence of the commissioner in the efficacy of the law and that it will "eventually result in the regulation and supervision of all kinds of companies in the same manner as banks are now regulated and supervised."

Against this statement, however, counsel cites the view expressed by the British Board of Trade of the inexpediency of an official investigation "into the soundness, good faith, and prospects" of companies. Upon this difference in views we are not called upon to express an opinion for, as we have said, the judgment is for the State to make, and in the belief of evils and the necessity for their remedy and the manner of their remedy the State has determined that the business of dealing in securities shall have administrative supervision, and 26 States have expressed like judgments.

Much may be said against these judgments, as much has been said, and decisions of the courts have been cited against them. We are not insensible to the strength of both, but we cannot stay the hands of government upon a consideration of the impolicy of its legislation. Every new regulation of business or conduct meets challenge and, of course, must sustain itself against challenge and the limitations that the Constitution imposes. But it is to be borne in mind that the policy of a State and ...


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