Swift & Co. v. Wickham,
382 U.S. 111 (1965)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Swift & Co. v. Wickham, 382 U.S. 111 (1965)

Swift & Co. v. Wickham

No. 9

Argued October 13, 1965

Decided November 22, 1965

382 U.S. 111


Appellants, two meat-packing companies, sued in the Federal District Court to enjoin enforcement of a New York statute requiring that the label for packaged poultry disclose the weight of the unstuffed bird as well as of the entire package. Appellants claimed that the state statute violated the Commerce Clause, the Fourteenth Amendment, and overriding federal labeling requirements under which the state label had been disapproved. A three-judge District Court was convened under 28 U.S.C. § 2281, providing for such a tribunal whenever the enforcement of a state statute is sought to be enjoined "upon the ground of the unconstitutionality of such statute." That court dismissed on the merits in both its single-judge and three-judge capacities, and appeals were taken respectively to the Court of Appeals and (under 28 U.S.C. § 1253) to this Court.

Held: The three-judge court requirement applies to injunction suits depending directly upon a substantive provision of the Constitution, and does not apply to Supremacy Clause cases involving only federal-state statutory conflicts. Pp. 382 U. S. 114-129.

(a) Appellants' Commerce Clause and Fourteenth Amendment claims are too insubstantial to support three-judge court jurisdiction. Pp. 382 U. S. 114-115.

(b) A claim that a state statute is preempted by or in conflict with a federal provision though grounded in the Supremacy Clause primarily involves the comparison of two statutes, rather than the interpretation of the Constitution; therefore, as established in Ex parte Buder, 271 U. S. 461; Ex parte Bransford, 310 U. S. 354, and Case v. Bowles, 327 U. S. 92, Supremacy Clause cases are not within the purview of § 2281. Pp. 382 U. S. 120-122.

(c) The holding in Kesler v. Department of Public Safety, 369 U. S. 153, that a three-judge court is required if the constitutional issue is "immediately" apparent, but not if substantial statutory

Page 382 U. S. 112

construction is required, is unworkable, and that decision is, pro tanto, overruled. Pp. 382 U. S. 124-129.

230 F.Supp. 398, appeal dismissed.

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