CourtSpeak: Standard Oil Monopoly Case

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Chapter The White Court (1910–21)

Chief Justice Edward White (majority): “If the criterion by which it is to be determined in all cases whether every contract, combination, etc., is a restraint of trade within the intendment of the law, is the direct or indirect effect of the acts involved, then of course the rule of reason becomes the guide, and the construction which we have given the statute, instead of being refuted by the cases relied upon, is by those cases demonstrated to be correct. This is true, because the construction which we have deduced from the history of the act and the analysis of its text is simply that in every case where it is claimed that an act or acts are in violation of the statute, the rule of reason, in the light of the principles of law and the public policy which the act embodies, must be applied. From this it follows, since that rule and the result of the test as to direct or indirect, in their ultimate aspect, come to one and the same thing, that the difference between the two is therefore only that which obtains between things which do not differ at all.”

Justice John Marshall Harlan (dissenting): “It thus appears that fifteen years ago, when the purpose of Congress in passing the anti-trust act was fresh in the minds of courts, lawyers, statesmen, and the general public, this court expressly declined to indulge in judicial legislation, by inserting in the act the word ‘unreasonable’ or any other word of like import….

“When Congress prohibited every contract, combination, or monopoly, in restraint of commerce, it prescribed simple, definite rule that all could understand, and which could be easily applied by everyone wishing to obey the law, and not to conduct their business in violation of law. But, now it is to be feared, we are to have, in cases without number, the constantly recurring inquiry—difficult to solve by proof—whether the particular contract, combination, or trust involved in each case is or is not an ‘unreasonable’ or ‘undue’ restraint of trade.”


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