It will be observed that these cases bring here for judgment an asserted conflict between national power and state power, and bring, besides, power of the State as limited or forbidden by the National Constitution.
The assertion of such conflict and limitation is an ever-recurring one; and yet it is approached as if it were a new thing under the sun. The primary postulate of the State is that the law under review is an exercise of the police power of the State, and that power, we have said, is the least limitable of the exercises of government. Sligh v. Kirkwood, 237 U.S. 52. We get no accurate idea of its limitations by opposing to it the declarations of the Fourteenth Amendment that no person shall be deprived of his life, liberty or property without due process of law or denied the equal protection of the laws. Noble State Bank v. Haskell, 219 U.S. 104, 110. A stricter inquiry is necessary, and we must consider what it is of life, liberty and property that the Constitution protects.
What life is and what may or may not affect it, we have quite accurate tests; and what liberty is in its outside sense, and, in like sense, what property is. We know that it is of the essence of liberty — indeed, we may say, of life — that there shall be freedom of conduct, and yet there may
The question then is, Is the statute of Ohio within the principles declared? The statute is a restraint upon the disposition of certain property, and requires dealers in securities evidencing title to or interest in such property to obtain a license — a requirement simple enough in itself and yet of itself asserted to be an illegal control of a private business, made especially so by the conditions which are imposed. These conditions, summarized, are as follows:
To obtain the license there must be filed with the superintendent of banks and banking (termed in the act "commissioner") application for such license, together with information in such form as the commissioner shall determine, setting forth:
"(a) The names and addresses of the directors and officers if such applicant be a corporation or association and of all partners if it be a partnership, and of the person if the applicant be an individual, together with names and addresses of all agents of such applicant assisting in the disposal of such securities;
"(b) Location of the applicant's principal office and of his principal office in the state, if any;
"(c) The general plan and character of the business of said applicant, together with references which the `commissioner' shall confirm by such investigation as he may deem necessary, establishing the good repute in business of such applicant, directors, officers, partners and agents.
"If the applicant be a corporation organized under the laws of any other state, territory or government, or have its principal place of business therein, it shall also file a copy of its articles of incorporation, certified by the proper
The applicant is also required to file a written instrument irrevocably consenting to be sued in a particular county and, if personal service there cannot be had, consenting to service upon the sheriff of the county.
It is also provided that all of the applications shall be published in a daily newspaper and if the commissioner be satisfied that the applicant is of good business repute, he shall, upon payment of certain fees, register the applicant as a licensed dealer in securities. Pending disposition of the application temporary permission to transact business may be given. Yearly renewals of the licenses are provided for.
The commissioner may revoke a license upon ascertaining that the licensee: (a) is of bad business repute; (b) has violated any provision of the act; or (c) has engaged, or is about to engage, under favor of such license, in illegitimate business or fraudulent transactions.
It will be observed, therefore, that the law is a regulation of business, constrains conduct only to that end, the purpose being to protect the public against the imposition of unsubstantial schemes and the securities based upon them. Whatever prohibition there is, is a means to the same purpose, made necessary, it may be supposed, by the persistence of evil and its insidious forms and the experience of the inadequacy of penalties or other repressive measures. The name that is given to the law indicates the evil at which it is aimed, that is, to use the language of a cited case, "speculative schemes which have no more basis than so many feet of `blue sky'"; or, as stated by counsel in another case, "to stop the sale of stock in fly-by-night concerns, visionary oil wells, distant gold mines and other like fraudulent exploitations." Even if the descriptions be regarded as rhetorical, the existence of evil is
The basis of these contentions is that the law confers arbitrary power upon the commissioner. In considering the contentions we must keep in mind that the law is addressed to a complex situation. Its purpose is, as we have seen, to give a basis for judgment of the securities offered the purchasing public; assure credit where it is deserved and confidence to investment and trading; prevent deception and save credulity and ignorance from imposition, as far as this can be done by the approved reputation of the seller of the securities and authoritative information.
It may, however, be said that character establishes itself and neither needs nor can be compelled to accept the stamp of government, and it is asserted that the "normal investment business of the country" and its "individual transactions" are not subject to "executive control," the broad contention being made that as such business cannot be prohibited it cannot be regulated. This, indeed, is the basic principle of the opposition to the statute. It is expressed in many ways, and the various provisions of the statute — those that are explicit in direction to the commissioner and those that commit discretion to him — are said to so burden and complicate "normal business as to
As broadly made, we cannot assent to these propositions. The reason and extent of the law we have indicated and the control to which individual transactions are subjected, and we think both are within the competency of the State. It is to be remembered that the value of securities consists in what they represent, and to determine such value is a complex problem even to the most skillful and informed.
We have very lately decided a case upon the principle of the power of the State to prevent frauds and impositions. Hutchinson Ice Cream Co. v. Iowa, ante, p. 153. The principle applies as well to securities as to material products, the provisions of the law necessarily varying with the objects. As to material products the purpose may be accomplished by a requirement of inherent purity. The intangibility of securities, they being representatives or purporting to be representatives of something else, of property, it may be, in distant states and countries, schemes of plausible pretensions, requires a difference of provision and the integrity of the securities can only be assured by the probity of the dealers in them and the information which may be given of them. This assurance the State has deemed necessary for its welfare to require; and the requirement is not unreasonable or inappropriate. It extends to the general market something of the safeguards that are given to trading upon the exchanges and stock boards of the country, safeguards that experience has adopted as advantageous. Inconvenience may be caused and supervision and surveillance, but this must yield to the public welfare; and against counsel's alarm of consequences, we set the judgment of the State.
We turn back, therefore, to consider the more specific objections to the law. The basis of them is, as we have seen, the power conferred upon the commissioner, which is
We are a little surprised that it should be implied that there is anything recondite in a business reputation or its existence as a fact which should require much investigation. If in special cases there may be controversy, those cases the statute takes care of; an adverse judgment by the commissioner is reviewable by the courts. Section 6373-8. So also as to the other judgments.
Besides it is certainly apparent that if the conditions are within the power of the State to impose, they can only be ascertained by an executive officer. Reputation and character are quite tangible attributes, but there can be no legislative definition of them that can automatically attach to or identify individuals possessing them, and necessarily the aid of some executive agency must be invoked. The contention of appellees would take from government one of its most essential instrumentalities, of which the various national and state commissions are instances. But the contention may be answered by authority. In Gundling v. Chicago, 177 U.S. 183, an ordinance of the City of Chicago was passed on which required a license of dealers in cigarettes and as a condition
The discretion of the commissioner is qualified by his duty, and besides, as we have seen, the statute gives judicial review of his action. Pending such review we must accord to the commissioner a proper sense of duty and the presumption that the functions entrusted to him will be executed in the public interest, not wantonly or arbitrarily to deny a license to or take one away from a reputable dealer (Plymouth Coal Co. v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.S. 531, 545); and, as we have said, in cases where there can be a dispute of fact, the statute provides for judicial review, and we see no legal objection to the designation of a particular court for such review.
We are not disposed to give serious attention to the contention that while the statute in form prohibits sales "it at the same time necessarily prevents purchases, and thereby shields contemplating purchasers from loss of property by the exercise of their own defective judgment," and puts them as well as the sellers under guardianship. If we may suppose that such purchasers would assert a liberty to form a "defective judgment" and resent means of information as a limitation of their freedom, we must wait until they themselves appear to do so. Besides, there are examples in legislation of unsolicited protection, and there is much in the business we are considering
Discriminations are asserted against the statute which extend, it is contended, to denying appellees the equal protection of the laws. Counsel enumerates them as follows:
"Prominent among such discriminations are between the cases where more or less than fifty per cent. of an issue of bonds is included in the sale to one person; between securities which have and which have not been authorized by the public service commission of this state; between the securities issued by a bank, trust company, a building and loan association organized under the laws of this state and those which are not; between an owner who sells his securities in a single transaction and one who disposes of them in successive transactions; between a bank or trust company who sells at a commission of not more than two per cent. and one which sells at a higher commission; against securities when any part of the proceeds to be derived from the sale are to be applied in payment for patents, services, good will or for property not located in this state; in providing for such delays in the issuance of a license and in the subsequent conduct of business thereunder as to substantially hinder, and in many cases naturally arising, to utterly prevent sales; in discriminating between securities which have and which have not been published in regular market reports; between
We cannot give separate attention to the asserted discriminations. It is enough to say that they are within the power of classification which a State has. A State "may direct its law against what it deems the evil as it actually exists without covering the whole field of possible abuses, and it may do so none the less that the forbidden act does
The next contention of appellees is that the law under review is a burden on interstate commerce, and therefore contravenes the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States. There is no doubt of the supremacy of the national power over interstate commerce. Its inaction, it is true, may imply prohibition of state legislation but it may imply permission of such legislation. In other words, the burden of the legislation, if it be a burden, may be indirect and valid in the absence of the assertion of the national power. So much is a truism; there can only be controversy about its application. The language of the statute is: "Except as otherwise provided in this act, no dealer shall, within this state, dispose" of certain securities "issued or executed by any private or quasi-public corporation, co-partnership or association (except corporations not for profit) . . . without first being licensed so to do as hereinafter provided."
The provisions of the law, it will be observed, apply to dispositions of securities within the State and while information of those issued in other States and foreign countries is required to be filed (§§ 6373-9), they are only affected by the requirement of a license of one who deals in them within the State. Upon their transportation into the State there is no impediment — no regulation of them or interference with them after they get there. There is the exaction only that he who disposes of them there shall
We might, indeed, ask, When do the designated securities cease migration in interstate commerce and settle to the jurisdiction of the State? Material things, choses in possession, pass out of interstate commerce when they emerge from the original package. Do choses in action have a longer immunity? It is to be remembered that though they may differ in manner of transfer, they are in the same form in the hands of the purchaser as they are in the hands of the seller, and in the hands of both as they are brought into the State. We ask again, Do they never pass out of interstate commerce? Have they always the freedom of the State? Is there no point of time at which the State can expose the evil that they may mask? Is anything more necessary for the supremacy of the national power than that they be kept free when in actual transportation,
Decree reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS dissents.