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United States v. Carolene Products Company

A Dispute Over Filled Milk, High Court Rules, Debate And Dissent


United States


Carolene Products Company

Petitioner's Claim

That congressional legislation outlawing the shipment of adulterated milk was a constitutionally permissible regulation of interstate commerce.

Chief Lawyers for Petitioner

Homer S. Cummings, Brien McMahon

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

George N. Murdock

Justices for the Court

Hugo Lafayette Black, Louis D. Brandeis, Pierce Butler, Charles Evans Hughes, Owen Josephus Roberts, Harlan Fiske Stone (writing for the Court)

Justices Dissenting

James Clark McReynolds (Benjamin N. Cardozo and Stanley Forman Reed did not participate)


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

25 April 1938


Congressional regulation of "filled milk" was held to be constitutionally permissible.


The Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Carolene Products Company marked a significant change in its thinking about when and in what type of cases it would review the constitutionality of federal legislation. What began as a spat over filled, or adulterated milk became the occasion for a substantial rethinking of judicial review. Justice Harlan Stone's famous footnote in this case has sparked voluminous legal debate over the ensuing decades.


The impact of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Carolene Products Company went well beyond the regulation of an obscure milk product. Stone's "preferred freedoms" doctrine established new parameters for judicial review of federal legislation. The Court continues to struggle with the question of when and with what level of scrutiny to intervene in cases involving the lawmaking power.

Related Cases

  • United States v. Lowden, 308 U.S. 225 (1939).
  • Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294 (1964).
  • United States v. Bass, 404 U.S. 336 (1972).
  • Sugarman v. Dougall, 413 U.S. 634 (1973).

Further Readings

  • Chandler, Ralph C. The Constitutional Law Dictionary. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, Inc., 1987.
  • Cushman, Robert Fairchild with Susan P. Koniak. Leading Constitutional Decisions. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1992.
  • Menez, Joseph Francis. Summaries of Leading Cases of the Constitution. Savage, MD: Littlefield, Adams, 1990.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940