MCDERMOTT V. WISCONSIN, 228 U. S. 115 (1913)

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U.S. Supreme Court

McDermott v. Wisconsin, 228 U.S. 115 (1913)

McDermott v. Wisconsin

Nos. 112, 113

Argued January 17, 20, 1913

Decided April 7, 1913

228 U.S. 115


State legislation in regard to labeling articles in interstate commerce which are required to be branded under the federal Pure Food and Drugs Act is void so far as it interferes with the provisions of such act and imposes a burden on interstate commerce, and so held as to certain provisions of the Wisconsin statute.

Congress not only has the right to pas laws regulating legitimate commerce among the states and with foreign nations, but also has full power to bar from the channels of such commerce illicit and harmful articles.

Congress may itself determine the means appropriate to this purpose; and, so long as they do no violence to the other provisions of the Constitution, Congress is itself the judge of the means to be employed in exercising the powers conferred on it in this respect.

The Pure Food and Drugs Act must be construed in the light of the purpose and power of Congress to exclude poisonous and adulterated food from interstate commerce. Hipolite Egg Co. v. United States, 220 U. S. 45.

Articles the shipment or delivery of which in interstate commerce is prohibited by § 2 of the Food and Drugs Act are those which are adulterated or misbranded within the meaning of the act in the light of those provisions of the act wherein adulteration and misbranding are defined.

"Package" or its equivalent, as used in § 7 of the Food and Drugs Act, refers to the immediate container of the article which is intended for consumption by the public. To limit the requirements of the act to the outside box which is not seen by the purchasing public would render nugatory one of the principal provisions of the act.

Quaere, and not necessary to decide in this case, what is the exact meaning of the terms "original unbroken package" and "broken package" as used in §§ 2, 3 and 10 of the Food and Drugs Act.

While the enactment by Congress of the Food and Drugs Act does not

Page 228 U. S. 116

prevent the state from making regulations not in conflict therewith to protect its people against fraud or imposition by impure food and drugs, Savage v. Jones, 225 U. S. 501, the state may not, under the guise of exercising its police power, impose burdens upon interstate commerce or enact legislation in conflict with the Act of Congress on the subject.

A state law on a subject within the domain of Congress must yield to the superior power of Congress; to the extent that it interferes with or frustrates the operation of the Act of Congress, a state statute is void.

Whether articles in interstate commerce have been branded in accordance with the terms of the Food and Drugs Act is not for the state to determine, but for the federal courts in the manner indicated by Congress.

As the federal Food and Drugs Act requires articles in interstate commerce to be properly labeled, a state cannot require a label when properly affixed under that statute to be removed and other labels authorized by its own statute to be affixed to the package containing the article so long as it remains unsold by the importer, whether it be in the original case or not.

The doctrine of original packages was not intended to limit the right of Congress, when it chose to assert it, as it has done in the Food and Drugs Act, to keep the channels of interstate commerce free from the carriage of injurious or fraudulently branded articles and to choose appropriate means to that end.

State legislation cannot impair legislative means provided by Congress in a federal statute for the enforcement thereof.

The statute of Wisconsin of 1907 prescribing a label for corn syrup and prohibiting all others is invalid so far as it relates to articles properly branded on the immediate container thereof under the federal Food and Drugs Act and brought into the state in interstate commerce, so long as they remain unsold by the importer, whether in the original outside package or not.

143 Wis. 18 reversed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of the Wisconsin Syrup Law and the construction of the federal Pure Food and Drug Law, are stated in the opinion.

Page 228 U. S. 124

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