What New Deal legislation did the US Supreme Court declare unconstitutional?

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Federal New Deal Legislation

The Supreme Court found six of Roosevelt's eight major New Deal statutes unconstitutional, most often due to instances where Congress attempted to exercise the Interstate Commerce Clause in a manner not compatible with the Constitution.

In Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 US 388 (1935), (aka the Hot Oil Case) the Supreme Court invalidated a section of the National Industrial Recovery Act that regulated the sale of petroleum products between states and foreign entities. The Court held that Congress had overstepped its authority by delegating to the President powers not enumerated in the Constitution. The overturned section of the act prohibited the sale of petroleum in excess of undefined state quotas, and failed to set criteria for applicability of the statute.

In Railroad Retirement Board v. Alton Railway Co., 295 US 330 (1935), the Court invalidated the Railroad Pension Act of 1934 as violating several provisions of the constitution, including passage of ex post facto laws, and creating arbitrary rules and obligations in a manner prohibited by the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. The Railroad Pension Act made workers who had been employed prior to enactment of the statute eligible for pensions despite their not having contributed to the retirement funds. In addition, the law included former employees who had been fired for cause or who had worked for only a short duration. The Court also held that forcing pensions into a single, pooled fund was unfair to larger carriers who contributed more than smaller carriers, and was not a legitimate exercise of Congressional power under the Interstate Commerce Clause.

In Schechter Poultry Corp. v. US, 295 US 495 (1935), the Supreme Court found certain government-imposed regulations of the poultry industry, such as price- and wage-fixing, unconstitutional. The decision limited the government's power to act under the Interstate Commerce Clause, which it had applied to intrastate commerce, and invalidated a portion of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, closing the National Recovery Administration (NRA). Many of the NRA policies, such as setting minimum wage and restricting work hours, were successfully reenacted under the National Labor Relations Act (aka Wagner Act) passed in July 1935.

In Louisville Joint Stock Land Bank v. Radford, 295 US 555 (1935), decided on the same day as Schechter, the Court struck down as unconstitutional a New Deal addition to the Bankruptcy Act, § 75, the Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act of 1934. Under the Frazier-Lemke provision, the federal government exercised eminent domain "in the public interest" by seizing farm property owned by the banks and turning it over to the farmers, in violation of the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause.

In United States v. Butler, 297 US 1 (1936), the Supreme Court held that the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was unconstitutional because the federal government imposed a tax on processors of farm products in order to fund a program that paid farmers not to grow crops. The decision restricted the government's ability to impose taxes for purposes other than raising revenue.

In Carter v. Carter Coal Co., 298 US 238 (1936), the Supreme Court overturned the Bituminous Cal Conservation Act of 1935 that attempted to regulate coal prices and wages by empowering local boards to set minimum prices for coal and to provide collective bargaining services for employees, whose wages were abysmally low. The Court ruled Congress had overstepped its authority under the Interstate Commerce Clause and abrogated the state's rights under the Tenth Amendment, by attempting to regulate industry during the production phase. The Court drew a distinction between manufacturing and distribution, affirming the right of the states to regulate production. (This ruling was reversed in NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 US 1 (1937))


State Minimum Wage Law

In Morehead v. New York Ex. Rel. Tipaldo, 298 US 587 (1936) the Supreme Court overturned a New York state law setting minimum wages and work hours for women and children, on the grounds that the law removed from workers the right to negotiate wages in exchange for work under the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause. (This ruling was reversed the following year in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish, 300 US 379 (1937) when the Court upheld Washington state's minimum wage law for women.)

Morehead was only one of several state minimum wage laws the Court overturned in 1935 and 1936. This trend reversed with West Coast Hotel v. Parish, (1937).


Most of the overturned federal legislation was resurrected in other forms, or with appropriate revisions soon after being invalidated. Between 1937 and 1943, President Roosevelt had an opportunity to appoint eight new justices to the Supreme Court, changing the basic tenor of the Court from conservative to progressive.


For more information on US v. Butler, (1936), and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, see Related Questions, below.

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Can the US Supreme Court declare an act of the President unconstitutional?

Yes, but.... The Supreme Court can declare both acts of Congress and the Executive branch unconstitutional, but only if the act, executive order or law is properly challenged. The justices cannot declare anything unconstitutional on their own initiative; they can only exercise judicial review if the question of constitutionality is part of a valid case or controversy before the Court.

Can the US Supreme Court declare a law unconstitutional?

Yes. Actually, any Article III federal court (or state equivalent) can declare a law unconstitutional under the doctrine of judicial review, if the law is relevant to a case before the Court and legitimately infringes on a person or entity's constitutional rights. The US Supreme Court is the ultimate authority on the Constitution, and often receives appeals of lower court decisions on the constitutionality of law.

On what grounds did the US Supreme Court declare the legislative veto unconstitutional?

The Supreme Court held Congress can't delegate its constitutional authority to the President (or anyone else) because it violates the "separation of powers" doctrine and gives the President too much power . In Clinton v. City of New York, (1998), the Supreme Court determined the President could only sign or veto a legislative package in its entirety . In the opinion of the Court, Congress erred in passing the bill under the "non-delegation doctrine" of the Constitution that states Congress can't reassign its constitutional powers to another branch or entity. Case Citation: Clinton v. City of New York, 524 US 417 (1998) For more information, see Related Questions, below.

What was the first law the US Supreme Court declared unconstitutional?

Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 Marbury vs. Madison, 5 US 137 (1803), was the first case in which the Supreme Court declared an Act of Congress unconstitutional. The Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall, ruled that Congress overstepped its authority by giving the Court authority to issue writs of mandamus for US government officials, a power not specifically enumerated by Article III of the Constitution. The decision invalidated Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789.

How many laws has the US Supreme Court declared unconstitutional?

The list would be too long for this format. The US Supreme Court has declared a total of 1,315 laws (as of 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available; the database may be updated in 2012) unconstitutional using the process of judicial review. The first time the Court declared a federal law unconstitutional was in Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion for Marbury v. Madison, 5 US 137 (1803), in which he asserted Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional because it extended to the Supreme Court an act of original jurisdiction not explicitly granted by the Constitution. Unconstitutional and Preempted Laws 1789-2002 According to the GPO (Government Printing Office Database): 1789-2002 Acts of Congress Held as Unconstitutional..............................158 1789-2002 State Statutes held unconstitutional......................................935 1789-2002 City Ordinances held unconstitutional....................................222 1789-2002 State and City laws preempted by Federal laws.......................224 Total State, Local and Federal Laws Declared Unconstitutional................ 1,315 Total State and Local Law Preempted by Federal Laws.............................. 224 Total Laws Overturned, all governments.............................................. 1,539 You can find a list of federal laws held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court; state and local laws held unconstitutional or preempted by federal laws; and Supreme Court decisions overruled by subsequent decision, at the end of the congressional publication The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (popularly known as the Constitution Annotated , or CONAN). This publication is prepared by the Congressional Research Service and issued as a U.S. Senate document every 10 years and is updated by a cumulative supplement every two years. The latest edition and supplement are available online to the general public at the Government Printing Office's Federal Digital System (FDsys) Web site: (See Related Links, below. It will be listed in the "Featured Collections" menu on the right.) Your congressman has access to a more frequently updated version of the Constitution Annotated in XML format, but this version is not currently available to the public. Here is a table of the total numbers for each category taken from the June 2002 edition and the 2010 cumulative supplement: 1789 - 2002 Acts of Congress held unconstitutional.......................................158 State laws held unconstitutional...................................................935 Ordinances held unconstitutional.................................................122 State and local laws held preempted by federal laws…...............224 Supreme Court decisions overruled by subsequent decision.......220 1789 - 2010 Acts of Congress held unconstitutional........................................165 State Laws held unconstitutional..................................................948 Ordinances held unconstitutional..................................................124 State and local laws held preempted by federal laws....................234 Supreme Court decisions overruled by subsequent decision........233

What New Deal agency did the US Supreme Court rule unconstitutional in the 1930s?

The US Supreme Court declared the National Recovery Administration unconstitutional in 1935 in their decision for Schecter Poultry Corp. v. US. In Schechter , the US Supreme Court found certain government-imposed regulations of the poultry industry, such as price- and wage-fixing, unconstitutional. The "codes of fair competition" would have allowed the President to dictate pricing and and other competitive aspects of the agribusiness under Section 3 of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, as an extension of the Interstate Commerce Clause. These laws would apply to certain food producers regardless of size and regardless of whether their business was entirely intrastate, as was the case with A. L. A. Schechter Poultry Corp. The Court's decision limited the government's power to act under the Interstate Commerce Clause, which it held was improperly applied to intrastate commerce. The Supreme Court ruled that the farm regulation was a state's rights issue, and invalidated a portion of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, closing the National Recovery Administration (NRA). Many of the NRA policies, such as setting minimum wage and restricting work hours, were successfully reenacted under the National Labor Relations Act (aka Wagner Act) passed in July 1935. Case Citation: Schechter Poultry Corp. v. US , 295 US 495 (1935)

Can the US Supreme Court declare that all laws are unconstitutional?

Not really. Although the US Supreme Court has the power of judicial review , which means they can analyze any particular law in terms of its constitutionality and nullify those that are unconstitutional. But that doesn't mean they can go willy-nilly through the US Code, deleting stuff at random. First, the justices have to wait for someone to challenge the law in court, exhaust their lower court appeals (except for the few cases the may go directly from District Court to the Supreme Court), and petition the Supreme Court to review their case. The Supreme Court can't go on a scouting mission, looking for laws to overturn, and they can't enter into conspiracies with other people in an effort to have specific statutes challenged. Second, the law has to be genuinely unconstitutional. Enough members of the Court would have to vote that it violates rights in a significant way, and then write a convincing opinion, citing precedents (earlier cases) upon which they can base their decisions. There are several problems with this scenario. The first is that many laws on the books have already been thoroughly vetted, making it difficult or impossible for a court to overturn the law on sane grounds. Another problem is that, left to chance, there's no way the population would challenge every law, so at least five of the nine Justices would have to be in on a conspiracy to overturn perfectly good laws, which is unlikely to happen. Aside from the fact that Supreme Court justices take their responsibilities seriously and try to maintain high professional ethical standards, they also have different political ideologies. In the highly unlikely event five crazy justices conspired to overturn every law in the country, the other four would scream and holler and raise such a ruckus about their illegal behavior that the five crazy justices would quickly find themselves impeached, tried and removed from office. It's interesting to wonder what would happen if you woke up to a country where every law had been overturned, but the possibility of that happening under our current system of government is nil. The court has established standards for determining if a law is constitutional. The minimum standard that all laws must meet is that a law must be rationally related to a legitimate public purpose. Without this requirement, congress could pass a law requiring everybody to wear their underware on the outside and nothing in the constitution would invalidate such a law. Where specific enumerated rights are involved higher standards apply before a law can pass constitutional muster. For instance, inhibitions on free speech, association, petitioning government and religion (the 1st Amendment Rights) must meet the above standard that applies to all laws and must also be " narrowly tailored " so as not to inhibit those freedoms anymore than is absolutely necessary to accomplish the public purpose. Some standards, like those applied to official acts that may result in discrimination by class (race for instance), heighten the "legitimate public purpose" side of the test. For racial discrimination, there must be a compelling state interest justifying the law. The law is supposed to be a rational production, and usually is, though many examples of courts acting otherwise can be cited.

Why did the US Supreme Court declare the line item or legislative veto unconstitutional?

In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Stevens, the US Supreme Court held that The Line Item Veto Bill of 1996 was unconstitutional under the Presentment and Bicameral Clauses (Article I, Section 7, Clauses 2 and 3). The Court held the President could only sign or veto a legislative package in its entirety . If the President objected to any part of the bill, he could return it to Congress and allow them to deliberate over, and address, the objections. The Court also believed Congress erred in passing the bill under the "non-delegation doctrine" of the Constitution that states Congress can't reassign its constitutional powers to another branch or entity. In his concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy asserted the line item veto also conferred too much power to the President , who would have the ability to reward or punish certain groups with the strike of a pen. According to Kennedy, the potential for abuse was high, and the practice would upset the government's system of checks and balances. Case Citation: Clinton v. City of New York, 524 US 417 (1998) For more information, see Related Questions, below.

What can the US Supreme Court declare unconstitutional?

The Supreme Court can declare a number of things unconstitutional, as long as the it involves an issue relevant to a case before the Court: . Federal law . State or municipal law . State constitutional provisions . A particular application of an otherwise constitutional federal law . A particular application of an otherwise constitutional state law . Government policies (includes schools, etc). . US Treaties . Executive Orders . Corporate policies or acts of corporate entities or people acting as agents of those entities. . Certain military actions or policies . Any action or policy of any entity, if it is repugnant to the Constitution.

What did the US Supreme Court declare unconstitutional in November 1956?

The US Supreme Court held segregation in public transportation is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause its decision for Gayle v. Browder, (1956). The Browder case specifically arose from policies of the City Lines Bus company in Montgomery, Alabama, where African-Americans held a year-long boycott of bus services. This was not Rosa Parks' case, which was bogged down in the state court system, but a class action suit naming four African-American women who had received the same bad treatment Ms. Parks did from the Montgomery bus company. The Supreme Court upheld the US District Court's decision without issuing a full opinion on the case. Case Citations: Gayle v. Browder, 352 U.S. 903 (1956) Browder v . Gayle , 142 F. Supp. 707 (1956)

What can the President do if the US Supreme Court declares a law unconstitutional?

The President cannot veto Supreme Court decisions, and has no official recourse to change decisions he (or she) dislikes. The President may exhort Congress to rewrite a nullified law to address whatever has been deemed unconstitutional. Sometimes the Executive branch ignores a Supreme Court decision or is slow to respond effectively, but this defeats the system of checks and balances.

How can a law be reinstated after the US Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional?

If the US Supreme Court declares a law unconstitutional, it is nullified and rendered unenforceable. It can not be reinstated. Congress may rewrite the law so that the new version complies with constitutional principles. The bill would be subject to the same legislative process as new Acts of Congress. It is also possible to pass an amendment to the Constitution that permits the action that the Court found unconstitutional. Then congress would have to pass a new law taking that action. This is what was done to permit the establishment of a Federal Income Tax.

Can the US Supreme Court declare war unconstitutional?

No, the US Supreme Court cannot declare that war is unconstitutional. The Constitution specifically places the power to declare war in the Congress of the United States. With such a specific constitutional provision, it would be impossible to assert that exercising it was contrary to the Constitution. Now, the Court might declare that a particular Declaration of War was unconstitutional because specific procedures were not followed, or because of other aspects of the particular vote, but even that would be a very difficult read and would result in a major constitutional crisis..