• Last updated on November 11, 2022

This historic ruling recognized that a state might exercise its police power to regulate private businesses.

In the 1870’s the Illinois legislature, responding to demands of the Patrons of Husbandry (the Grange), passed a statute limiting the maximum charges for the storage of grain in warehouses located in cities of 100,000 or more. The operators of several Chicago warehouses argued that the law violated two provisions in the Constitution: the commerce clause and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. By a 7-2 vote, however, the Supreme Court upheld the legislation. Justice Morrison R. Waite’sWaite, Morrison R.;Munn v. Illinois[Munn v. Illinois] majority opinion concluded that the law’s effect on interstate commerce was only incidental, and it rejected the doctrine of substantive due process.Due process, substantive Recognizing that the states possessed an inherent police power to protect the safety, welfare, and morality of the public, Waite concluded that this authority extended to the regulation of private property that is “affected with a public interest.” Ironically, the concept of “affected with a public interest” was later used to prohibit regulation of businesses that were small and of limited influence a practice finally abandoned in Nebbia v. New York[case]Nebbia v. New York[Nebbia v. New York] (1934).Police powersBusiness, regulation of;Munn v. Illinois[Munn v. Illinois]Commerce, regulation of;Munn v. Illinois[Munn v. Illinois]Police powers

Munn is remembered not only for the majority opinion but also for Justice Stephen J. Field’sField, Stephen J.;Munn v. Illinois[Munn v. Illinois] vigorous dissent, which defended almost a laissez-faire position on private property. Field charged that the majority opinion was dangerous to liberty because it implied that “all property and all business in the state are held at the mercy of the legislature.” Field’s dissent included a coherent argument in favor of a substantive reading of the due process clause an interpretation later accepted by the Court in Allgeyer v. Louisiana[case]Allgeyer v. Louisiana[Allgeyer v. Louisiana] (1897).[case]Munn v. Illinois[Munn v. Illinois]

Allgeyer v. Louisiana

Capitalism

Commerce, regulation of

Due process, substantive

Field, Stephen J.

Nebbia v. New York

Police powers

Property rights

Categories: History Content