Kern-Limerick v. Scurlock/Dissent Black

Kern-Limerick, Inc. v. Scurlock, 347 U.S. 110 (1954) by Hugo Black
Dissenting Opinion
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Linked case(s):
221 Ark. 439
347 U.S. 110
223 Ark. 464

Mr. Justice Black, with whom The Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Douglas concur, dissenting.

The Court holds that Government purchasing agents can delegate to their subordinates authority to delegate to private persons power to buy goods for the Government and pledge its credit to pay for them. Alabama v. King & Boozer, 314 U.S. 1, 13, rejected a similar contention. The Court points to no statute which either expressly or by fair implication grants any such broad delegation authority to Government agents.

Experiences through the years have caused Congress to hedge in Government purchases by many detailed safeguards such as competitive bidding after public advertising.[1] Due to a supposed necessity for haste, chosen Government officials have sometimes been granted temporary powers to buy supplies at their discretion. But these occasions, perhaps fortunately, have been rare, and have usually been limited to items costing little. The Court here, however, without any clear statutory author- [p124] ity, makes a tremendous break with long established buying practices which embodied safeguards wisely adopted to prevent needless waste of Government money. Maybe Congress has power, though I am not sure it has, to delegate Government spending to private contractors. Even so, a purpose to have Government business handled in such a loose manner should not be attributed to Congress in the absence of much more explicit statutory language than the Court is able to cite here.

I think the Supreme Court of Arkansas was right in sustaining the State's tax on authority of Alabama v. King & Boozer, supra. The Court in effect overrules that case. In doing so it moves back in the direction of discredited tax immunities like that sustained in the case of Gillespie v. Oklahoma, 257 U.S. 501, later disapproved. I would not do that, but would sustain application of this Arkansas tax to purchases of the cost-plus-a-fixed-fee contractor and affirm the State Supreme Court's judgment.

* ^  For illustrations of experience with abuse of wartime Government contracting and purchasing, see Hearings Before House Committee on Military Affairs, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., on H.R. 3 and H.R. 5293, pp. 590–616, discussing profiteering during the Revolution, the Civil War, the War with Spain, and World War I. The hearings were held on a bill to end profiteering in wartime.

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