Adams Express v. New York,
232 U.S. 14 (1914)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Adams Express v. New York, 232 U.S. 14 (1914)

Adams Express v. New York

Nos. 83, 84

Argued December 3, 4, 1913

Decided January 5, 1914

232 U.S. 14


The practical construction of municipal ordinances by the local authorities prior to the controversy is persuasive, especially where, as in this case, a different construction would render the ordinances unconstitutional.

While the exertion of the police power essential for protection of the community may extend incidentally to operations of interstate commerce, the police power does not justify the imposition of direct burdens on that commerce, nor its subjection to unreasonable demands.

A state law is unconstitutional and void which requires a party to take out a license for carrying on interstate commerce, no matter how specious the pretext may be for imposing it. Crutcher v. Kentucky, 141 U. S. 47.

An ordinance requiring an express company to take out local licenses for transacting interstate business is an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce.

Congress has exercised its authority over interstate express business, and so removed that business from any action of the state directly burdening it.

A municipal license fee required for express wagons and drivers cannot be construed as a fee or tax for use of the streets or regulation of street traffic, and quaere whether the ordinance in this case, if so construed, would not be invalid as discriminating against express companies.

While regulations to insure careful driving over city streets may be proper, they should, when interstate traffic is involved, be entirely reasonable. Quaere whether a requirement that only citizens of the United States, or those who have declared their intention to become

Page 232 U. S. 15

such, can be licensed is not unnecessarily burdensome in a city such as New York.

Where a license tax is declared unconstitutional as to all classes covered by the action, it is not necessary for this Court to decide whether it ha been superseded as to one of the classes by a later statute; quaere whether the general automobile statute of New York state repealed and superseded the express license fee ordinance of the City of New York.

The ordinances of the City of New York requiring expressmen to be licensed and providing that only citizens of the United States or those who have declared their intention to become such can be licensed, as applied to interstate commerce, impose a direct burden thereon, and, as so applied, are unconstitutional under the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States.

Where a municipal ordinance is unconstitutional as applied to interstate commerce, the person or corporation whose business is impeded by the enforcement of such ordinance is entitled to an injunction restraining the municipal authorities from enforcing it in respect to its interstate business.

189 F. 28 reversed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality under the commerce clause of the federal Constitution of certain ordinances of the City of New York as applied to the interstate business of express companies, are stated in the opinion.

Page 232 U. S. 23

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