Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States
Significance: Of the three Supreme Court cases voiding vague delegations of power to executive branch agencies, this ruling regarding the constitutionality of the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933) was the broadest.
The Schechter Poultry Corporation was charged with violating wage and hour provisions of the slaughterhouse industry and selling an “unfit chicken” under the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The act was designed to stimulate business recovery and end unemployment, largely through codes of fair competition and other regulations. The Supreme Court unanimously held that the NIRA was essentially unconstitutional because Congress delegated its lawmaking power to the executive branch through excessively vague legislation. Schechter should be considered along with two other cases: Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan (1935) and Carter v. Carter Coal Co. (1936). In these three cases, the Court attempted to limit the later widespread congressional practice of transferring its lawmaking responsibility by delegating the hard decisions or the actual wording to executive branch agencies. In Schechter, the Court addressed the essence of the NIRA, unlike its narrow holding in the other cases. In his dissent in Panama, Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo argued that the national economic emergency of the Great Depression justified this vague delegation of power, but in Schechter he found that the delegation was so extensive that it had “run riot.” Carter, the last Court decision attempting to limit vague delegations of congressional lawmaking power, was supported by only a 5-4 majority. The opinion, written by Justice George Sutherland, used the Tenth Amendment and the indirect-direct commerce distinction as an additional basis for rejecting the NIRA but ended up losing support on the Court. The four dissenters in Carter objected to this direct-indirect distinction. The Court never overturned its holdings in these cases but simply ignored them. Schechter is currently valid only on the narrow issues of the case.