International Shoe Company v. Washington/Separate Black

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Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Separate Opinion

United States Supreme Court

326 U.S. 310

International Shoe Company  v.  Washington


No. 107  Argued: November 14, 1945 --- Decided: December 3, 1945

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the following opinion.

Congress, pursuant to its constitutional power to regulate commerce, has expressly provided that a State shall not be prohibited from levying the kind of unemployment compensation tax here challenged. 26 U.S.C. 1600. We have twice decided that this Congressional consent is an adequate answer to a claim that imposition of the tax violates the Commerce Clause. Perkins v. Pennsylvania, 314 U.S. 586, affirming 342 Pa. 529; Standard Dredging Corp. v. Murphy, 319 U.S. 306, 308. Two determinations by this Court of an issue so palpably without merit are sufficient. Consequently, that part of this appeal which again seeks to raise the question seems so patently frivolous as to make the case a fit candidate for dismissal. Fay v. Crozer, 217 U.S. 455. Nor is the further ground advanced on this appeal, that the State of Washington has denied appellant due process of law, any less devoid of substance. It is my view, therefore, that we should dismiss the appeal as unsubstantial, [1] Seaboard Air Line R. Co. v. Watson, 287 U.S. 86, 90, 92, and decline the invitation to formulate broad rules as to the meaning of due process, which here would amount to deciding a constitutional question "in advance of the necessity for its decision." Federation of Labor v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 450, 461. [p323]

Certainly appellant cannot, in the light of our past decisions, meritoriously claim that notice by registered mail and by personal service on its sales solicitors in Washington did not meet the requirements of procedural due process. And the due process clause is not brought in issue any more by appellant's further conceptualistic contention that Washington could not levy a tax or bring suit against the corporation because it did not honor that State with its mystical "presence." For it is unthinkable that the vague due process clause was ever intended to prohibit a State from regulating or taxing a business carried on within its boundaries simply because this is done by agents of a corporation organized and having its headquarters elsewhere. To read this into the due process clause would, in fact, result in depriving a State's citizens of due process by taking from the State the power to protect them in their business dealings within its boundaries with representatives of a foreign corporation. Nothing could be more irrational, or more designed to defeat the function of our federative system of government. Certainly a State, at the very least, has power to tax and sue those dealing with its citizens within its boundaries, as we have held before. Hoopeston Canning Co. v. Cullen, 318 U.S. 313. Were the Court to follow this principle, it would provide a workable standard for cases where, as here, no other questions are involved. The Court has not chosen to do so, but instead has engaged in an unnecessary discussion, in the course of which it has announced vague Constitutional criteria applied for the first time to the issue before us. It has thus introduced uncertain elements confusing the simple pattern and tending to curtail the exercise of State powers to an extent not justified by the Constitution.

The criteria adopted, insofar as they can be identified, read as follows: Due Process does permit State courts to "enforce the obligations which appellant has incurred" if [p324] it be found "reasonable and just according to our traditional conception of fair play and substantial justice." And this, in turn, means that we will "permit" the State to act if, upon

an "estimate of the inconveniences" which would result to the corporation from a trial away from its "home" or principal place of business,

we conclude that it is "reasonable" to subject it to suit in a State where it is doing business.

It is true that this Court did use the terms "fair play" and "substantial justice" in explaining the philosophy underlying the holding that it could not be "due process of law" to render a personal judgment against a defendant without notice and an opportunity to be heard. Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457. In McDonald v. Mabee, 243 U.S. 90, 91, cited in the Milliken, case, Mr. Justice Holmes, speaking for the Court, warned against judicial curtailment of this opportunity to be heard, and referred to such a curtailment as a denial of "fair play," which even the common law would have deemed "contrary to natural justice." And previous cases had indicated that the ancient rule against judgments without notice had stemmed from "natural justice" concepts. These cases, while giving additional reasons why notice under particular circumstances is inadequate, did not mean thereby that all legislative enactments which this Court might deem to be contrary to natural justice ought to be held invalid under the due process clause. None of the cases purport to support or could support a holding that a State can tax and sue corporations only if its action comports with this Court's notions of "natural justice." I should have thought the Tenth Amendment settled that.

I believe that the Federal Constitution leaves to each State, without any "ifs" or "buts," a power to tax and to open the doors of its courts for its citizens to sue corporations whose agents do business in those States. Believing that the Constitution gave the States that power, I think it a judicial deprivation to condition its exercise upon this [p325] Court's notion of "fair play," however appealing that term may be. Nor can I stretch the meaning of due process so far as to authorize this Court to deprive a State of the right to afford judicial protection to its citizens on the ground that it would be more "convenient" for the corporation to be sued somewhere else.

There is a strong emotional appeal in the words "fair play," "justice," and "reasonableness." But they were not chosen by those who wrote the original Constitution or the Fourteenth Amendment as a measuring rod for this Court to use in invalidating State or Federal laws passed by elected legislative representatives. No one, not even those who most feared a democratic government, ever formally proposed that courts should be given power to invalidate legislation under any such elastic standards. Express prohibitions against certain types of legislation are found in the Constitution, and, under the long-settled practice, courts invalidate laws found to conflict with them. This requires interpretation, and interpretation, it is true, may result in extension of the Constitution's purpose. But that is no reason for reading the due process clause so as to restrict a State's power to tax and sue those whose activities affect persons and businesses within the State, provided proper service can be had. Superimposing the natural justice concept on the Constitution's specific prohibitions could operate as a drastic abridgment of democratic safeguards they embody, such as freedom of speech, press and religion, [2] and the right to counsel. This [p326] has already happened. Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455. Compare Feldman v. United States, 322 U.S. 487, 494-503. For application of this natural law concept, whether under the terms "reasonableness," "justice," or "fair play," makes judges the supreme arbiters of the country's laws and practices. Polk Co. v. Glover, 305 U.S. 5, 17-18; Federal Power Commission v. Natural Gas Pipeline Co., 315 U.S. 575, 600, n. 4. This result, I believe, alters the form of government our Constitution provides. I cannot agree.

True, the State's power is here upheld. But the rule announced means that tomorrow's judgment may strike down a State or Federal enactment on the ground that it does not conform to this Court's idea of natural justice. I therefore find myself moved by the same fears that caused Mr. Justice Holmes to say in 1930:

I have not yet adequately expressed the more than anxiety that I feel at the ever-increasing scope given to the Fourteenth Amendment in cutting down what I believe to be the constitutional rights of the States. As the decisions now stand, I see hardly any limit but the sky to the invalidating of those rights if they happen to strike a majority of this Court as for any reason undesirable.

Baldwin v. Missouri, 281 U.S. 586, 595.


^ . This Court has, on several occasions, pointed out the undesirable consequences of a failure to dismiss frivolous appeals. Salinger v. United States, 272 U.S. 542, 544; United Surety Co. v. American Fruit Product Co., 238 U.S. 140; De Bearn v. Safe Deposit & Trust Co., 233 U.S. 24, 33-34.

^ . These First Amendment liberties -- freedom of speech, press and religion -- provide a graphic illustration of the potential restrictive capacity of a rule under which they are protected at a particular time only because the Court, as then constituted, believes them to be a requirement of fundamental justice. Consequently, under the same rule, another Court, with a different belief as to fundamental justice, could, at least as against State action, completely or partially withdraw Constitutional protection from these basic freedoms, just as though the First Amendment had never been written.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).