The Waite Court (1874–88)


The Waite Court upheld state power to regulate private business in what famous decision?

The Waite Court ruled 7–2 in Munn v. Illinois (1877) that the state of Illinois could regulate the rates set by Illinois grain elevator operators in the city of Chicago, the only city in the state with a population of more than one hundred thousand. The state had convicted Ira Munn, the owner of Munn & Scott, the largest grain storage company in the state, because Munn had avoided paying the proper storage rates.

The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court and Munn’s lawyers argued that the state law was unconstitutional because it infringed on the U.S. Congress’s Commerce Clause powers and unlawfully impacted their property rights in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause.

Chief Justice Waite, writing for the majority, rejected all constitutional challenges to the law. He reasoned that the law was a valid exercise of a state’s police powers, writing that “when private property is devoted to a public use, it is subject to public regulation.” He also rejected the notion that the law exceeded Congress’s commerce powers, writing that any effect on interstate commerce was incidental.


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