United States v. Carolene Products Co.,
304 U.S. 144 (1938)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144 (1938)

United States v. Carolene Products Co.

No. 640

Argued April 6, 1938

Decided April 25, 1938

304 U.S. 144


The Filled Milk Act of Congress of Mar. 4, 1923, defines the term Filled Milk as meaning any milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed or dried, etc., to which has been added, or which has been blended or compounded with, any fat or oil other than milk fat, so that the resulting product is in imitation or semblance of milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed, dried, etc.; it declares that Filled Milk, as so defined, "is an adulterated article of food, injurious to the public health, and its sale constitutes a fraud upon the public", and it forbids and penalizes the shipment of such Filled Milk in interstate commerce. Defendant was indicted for shipping interstate certain packages of an article described in the indictment as a compound of condensed skimmed milk and coconut oil made in the imitation or semblance of condensed milk or cream, and further characterized by the indictment in the words of the statute, as "an adulterated article of food, injurious to the public health."


Page 304 U. S. 145

1. That upon its face, and as supported by judicial knowledge, including facts found in the reports of the congressional committees, the Act is presumptively within the scope of the power to regulate interstate commerce and consistent with due process. Demurrer to the indictment should have been overruled. Hebe Co. v. Shaw, 248 U. S. 297. P. 304 U. S. 147.

2. It is no valid objection that the prohibition of the Act does not extend to oleomargarine or other butter substitutes in which vegetable fats or oils replace butter. P. 304 U. S. 151.

3. The statutory characterization of filled milk as injurious to health and as a fraud upon the public may, for the purposes of this case, be considered as a declaration of legislative findings deemed to support the Act as a constitutional exertion of the legislative power, aiding informed judicial review by revealing the rationale of the legislation, as do the reports of legislative committees. P. 304 U. S. 152.

7 F.Supp. 500, reversed.

APPEAL under the Criminal Appeals Act from a judgment sustaining a demurrer to an indictment.

Primary Holding

Rational basis is the appropriate standard of review for laws affecting commercial matters, so the challenger must show that the law lacks a rational basis.


Under the Filled Milk Act, Congress prohibited skimmed milk mixed with fat or oil other than milk fat to be shipped in interstate commerce. When Carolene Products Co. was indicted under the Act, the trial court dismissed the indictment. On appeal by the federal government, the court needed to determine whether the Act was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment. Carolene's argument was that the law lacked a rational basis and also that Congress did not regulate the use of oleomargarine, which substituted vegetable fats for butter fat, in interstate commerce.



  • Harlan Fiske Stone (Author)
  • Charles Evans Hughes
  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis
  • Owen Josephus Roberts
  • Hugo Lafayette Black

To be found constitutional, a law does not need to solve all related problems in a certain area at the same time. Congress may restrict the shipments of certain milk substitutes without also restricting butter substitutes. Considering that Congress had held many hearings prior to passing this law, it was reasonable to conclude that Congress had believed that it was necessary for the public welfare. The challenger had failed to meet its burden of proving that no rational basis for the law existed, so the lower court should not have dismissed the indictment.


  • Pierce Butler (Author)


  • James Clark McReynolds (Author)


  • Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (Author)
  • Stanley Forman Reed

Case Commentary

Only a rational basis standard of review, which is almost always passed by the government, is appropriate in situations involving the constitutionality of purely economic regulations. The decision shows deference to the authority of the legislature and refrains from conducting its own factual investigation of whether the legislature was justified.

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