MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.
Required on this direct appeal to decide whether Congress under the Constitution had authority to adopt
"That it is hereby made unlawful for any person willfully . .. to make any unjust or unreasonable rate or charge in handling or dealing in or with any necessaries; to conspire, combine, agree, or arrange with any other person . . . (e) to exact excessive prices for any necessaries . . . Any person violating any of the provisions of this section upon conviction thereof shall be fined not exceeding $5,000 or be imprisoned for not more than two years, or both: . . ."
The text thus reproduced is followed by two provisos exempting from the operation either of the section or of the act enumerated persons or classes of persons engaged in agricultural or similar pursuits.
Comparing the reenacted section with the original text (Act of August 10, 1917, c. 53, § 4, 40 Stat. 276), it will be seen that the only changes made by the reenactment were the insertion of the penalty clause and an enlargement of the enumerated exemptions.
In each of two counts the defendant, the Cohen Grocery Company, alleged to be a dealer in sugar and other necessaries in the City of St. Louis, was charged with violating this section by wilfully and feloniously making an unjust and unreasonable rate and charge in handling and dealing in a certain necessary, the specification in the first count being a sale for $10.07 of about 50 lbs. of sugar, and that in the second, of a 100-pound bag of sugar for $19.50.
The defendant demurred on the following grounds: (a) That both counts were so vague as not to inform it of the nature and cause of the accusation; (b) that the statute upon which the indictment was based was subject to the same infirmity because it was so indefinite as not to enable it to be known what was forbidden, and
"Congress alone has power to define crimes against the United States. This power cannot be delegated either to the courts or to the juries of this country. . . .
"Therefore, because the law is vague, indefinite, and uncertain, and because it fixes no immutable standard of guilt, but leaves such standard to the variant views of the different courts and juries which may be called on to enforce it, and because it does not inform defendant of the nature and cause of the accusation against it,
The indictment was therefore quashed.
In cases submitted at about the same time with the one before us, and involving identical questions with those here in issue, it is contended that the section does not embrace the matters charged. We come, therefore, on our own motion in this case to dispose of that subject, since if well founded the contention would render a consideration of the constitutional questions unnecessary. The basis upon which the contention rests is that the words of the section do not embrace the price at which a commodity is sold, and, at any rate, the receipt of such price is not thereby intended to be penalized. We are of opinion, however, that these propositions are without merit, first, because the words of the section, as reenacted, are broad enough to embrace the price for which a commodity is sold, and second, because, as the amended section plainly imposes a penalty for the acts which it includes when committed after its passage, the fact that the section before its reenactment contained no penalty is of no moment. This must be the case unless it can be said that the failure at one time to impose a penalty for a forbidden act furnishes an adequate ground for preventing the subsequent enforcement of a penalty which is specifically and unmistakably provided.
We are of opinion that the court below was clearly right in ruling that the decisions of this court indisputably establish that the mere existence of a state of war could not suspend or change the operation upon the power of Congress of the guaranties and limitations of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments as to questions such as we are here passing upon. Ex parte Milligan, 4 Wall. 2, 121-127; Monongahela Navigation Co. v. United States, 148 U.S. 312, 336; United States v. Joint Traffic Association, 171 U.S. 505, 571; McCray v. United States, 195 U.S. 27, 61;
The sole remaining inquiry, therefore, is the certainty or uncertainty of the text in question, that is, whether the words "That it is hereby made unlawful for any person willfully . . . to make any unjust or unreasonable rate or charge in handling or dealing in or with any necessaries," constituted a fixing by Congress of an ascertainable standard of guilt and are adequate to inform persons accused of violation thereof of the nature and cause of the accusation against them. That they are not, we are of opinion, so clearly results from their mere statement as to render elaboration on the subject wholly unnecessary. Observe that the section forbids no specific or definite act. It confines the subject-matter of the investigation which it authorizes to no element essentially inhering in the transaction as to which it provides. It leaves open, therefore, the widest conceivable inquiry, the scope of which no one can foresee and the result of which no one can foreshadow or adequately guard against. In fact, we see no reason to doubt the soundness of the observation of the court below, in its opinion, to the effect that, to attempt to enforce the section would be the exact equivalent of an effort to carry out a statute which in terms merely penalized and punished all acts detrimental to the public interest when unjust and unreasonable in the estimation of the court and jury. And that this is not a mere abstraction, finds abundant demonstration in the cases now before us, since in the briefs in these cases the conflicting results which have arisen from the painstaking attempts of enlightened judges in seeking to carry out the statute in cases brought before them are vividly
That it results from the consideration which we have stated that the section before us was void for repugnancy to the Constitution is not open to question. United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214, 219-220; United States v. Brewer, 139 U.S. 278, 288; Todd v. United States, 158 U.S. 278,
But decided cases are referred to which it is insisted sustain the contrary view. Waters-Pierce Oil Co. v. Texas, 212 U.S. 86; Nash v. United States, 229 U.S. 373; Fox v. Washington, 236 U.S. 273; Miller v. Strahl, 239 U.S. 426; Omaechevarria v. Idaho, 246 U.S. 343. We need not stop to review them, however, first, because their inappositeness is necessarily demonstrated when it is observed that if the contention as to their effect were true it would result, in view of the text of the statute, that no standard whatever was required, no information as to the nature and cause of the accusation was essential, and that it was competent to delegate legislative power, in the very teeth of the settled significance of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments and of other plainly applicable provisions of the Constitution; and second, because the cases relied upon all rested upon the conclusion that, for reasons found to result either from the text of the statutes involved or the subjects with which they dealt, a standard of some sort was afforded. Indeed, the distinction between the cases relied upon and those establishing the general principle to which we have referred, and which we now apply and uphold as a matter of reason and authority, is so clearly pointed out in decided cases that we deem it only necessary to cite them. International Harvester Co. v. Kentucky, 234 U.S. 216, 221; Collins v. Kentucky, 234 U.S. 634, 637; American Seeding Machine Co. v. Kentucky, 236 U.S. 660, 662; and see United States v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co., 242 U.S. 208, 237-238.
It follows from what we have said that, not forgetful of our duty to sustain the constitutionality of the statute
MR. JUSTICE DAY took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE PITNEY and MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS concurred in the result, the former delivering the following opinion in which the latter concurred:
I concur in the judgment of the court, but not in the reasoning upon which it is rested.
Defendant was indicted upon two counts, alike in form, charging in each case that it "did wilfully and feloniously make an unjust and unreasonable rate and charge in handling and dealing in a certain necessary, to wit, sugar," in that it demanded, exacted and collected excessive prices for specified quantities of sugar purchased from it, in violation of the Lever Act (Act of October 22, 1919, c. 80, § 2, 41 Stat. 297, 298, amending § 4 of Act of August 10, 1917, c. 53, 40 Stat. 276, 277). I am convinced that the exacting of excessive prices upon the sale of merchandise is not within the meaning of that provision of the act which is cited as denouncing it; that the act does not make it a criminal offense; that for this reason the demurrer to the indictment was properly sustained; and that whether the provision is in conflict with the Fifth or Sixth Amendment is a question not necessarily raised, and which ought not to be passed upon.
In order to appreciate the point it is necessary to quote entire so much of the section as defines the crimes thereby denounced. It reads as follows:
For a definition of "hoarding," the section refers to § 6 of the original act (40 Stat. 278), which declares that necessaries shall be deemed to be hoarded, within the meaning of the act, when (inter alia) "withheld, whether by possession or under any contract or arrangement, from the market by any person for the purpose of unreasonably increasing or diminishing the price."
The court holds that the words "to make any unjust or unreasonable rate or charge in handling or dealing in or with any necessaries" are broad enough to embrace the exaction of an excessive price upon a sale of such
But the clause in question does not stand alone. It forms a part of a section in which the question of prices is dealt with four times: once in the initial prohibition against destroying any necessaries for the purpose of enhancing the price; a second time in the prohibition of hoarding, defined as including a withholding from market for the purpose of unreasonably increasing or diminishing the price; a third time in the prohibition of a conspiracy to limit the production of necessaries in order to enhance the price; and, finally, in the prohibition of a conspiracy "to exact excessive prices for any necessaries." It seems to me clear, upon the plainest principles of construction, that the change of phrase must be deemed to import a difference of purpose, and that "to make any unjust or unreasonable rate or charge in handling or dealing in or with any necessaries" must be taken to mean something else than the exaction of an excessive price. It should be
That it is not altogether evident what was intended to be included within "unjust or unreasonable rate or charge in handling or dealing in or with any necessaries," may be conceded. So much the more reason for not extending the words by construction so as to make criminal that which is not clearly within their meaning; and for not giving to them a meaning which brings the act into conflict with the Constitution; — and for not expanding the unconstitutional reach of the act, supposing that even without the particular application now made of the quoted words it would be repugnant to the fundamental law.
It is to my mind plain that § 4 was not intended to control the individual dealer with respect to the prices that he might exact, beyond prohibiting him from destroying any necessaries for the purpose of enhancing the price, and from withholding them from the market for a like purpose. So long as he acts alone he is left uncontrolled except by the ordinary processes of competition, his own sense of fairness, and his own interest. A conspiracy with others to exact excessive prices is an entirely different matter, and that is clearly prohibited.
And this brings me to another point: Section 4 naturally divides itself into two parts; the first portion denounces a number of substantive offenses; the second portion denounces a conspiracy to commit any one of a number of offenses, but these do not in terms include any of the offenses specifically prohibited in the earlier
Still further: Sections 14 and 25 of the original act (40 Stat. 281, 284) specifically deal with the question of official price-fixing of certain articles of prime necessity — wheat, coal, and coke — and furnish additional evidence that in the framing of this act, when Congress had price-fixing in mind and the regulation of "prices," it employed that simple term, and that it did not refer to prices in the provision of § 4 upon which the indictment in this case rests.
For these reasons, I regard it as unnecessary to pass upon the question whether that provision is in conflict with the Constitution of the United States.
In United States v. Oglesby Grocery Co., District Judge Sibley, of the Northern District of Georgia, said [264 Fed. Rep. 691, 695]:
"The words used by Congress in reference to a well-established course of business fairly indicate the usual and established scale of charges and prices in peace times as a basis, coupled with some inflexibility in view of changing conditions. The statute may be construed to forbid, in time of war, any departure from the usual and established scale of charges and prices in time of peace, which is not justified by some special circumstance of the commodity or dealer."
Judge McCall, of the Western District of Tennessee, in his charge to the grand jury, stated that, if a shoe dealer bought two orders of exactly the same kind of shoes at different times and at different prices, the first lot at $8 per pair and the second lot after the price had gone up to $12 per pair "and then he sells both lots of those shoes at eighteen dollars, he is profiteering clearly upon the first lot of [shoes] that only cost him $8. Now he does that upon the theory that if he sells these shoes out and goes into the market and buys again he will have to pay the higher price, but that doesn't excuse him. He is entitled to make a reasonable profit, but he certainly hasn't the right to take advantage of the former low purchase and take the same profit on them that he gets on the twelve dollar shoes."
In United States v. Myatt, District Judge Connor, of the Eastern District of North Carolina, said [264 Fed. Rep. 442, 450]:
"It will be observed that the statute does not declare it unlawful to make an unjust or unreasonable profit upon sugar. The profit made is not the test, and may be entirely irrelevant to the guilt of the defendant. He may, within the language of the statute, make an unreasonable and therefore unlawful `rate or charge' without making any profit, or the rate or charge made may involve a loss to him upon the purchasing price."
District Judge Hand, of the Northern District of New York, in his charge to the grand jury, said:
"Furthermore, it is not the particular profits that the individual himself makes which is the basis of the unreasonable charge, but it is whether the charge is such as gives unreasonable profit — not to him, but if established generally in the trade. The law does not mean to say that all people shall charge the same profit. If I am a particularly skillful merchant or manufacturer and I can make profits which are greater than the run of people in my business, I am allowed to make those profits. So much am I allowed. But if I am charging more than a reasonable price, taking the industry as a whole, I am not allowed to keep that profit because on other items I am sustaining a loss."
In United States v. Goldberg, District Judge Bledsoe, of the Southern District of California, charged the jury that, in passing on the question of the reasonableness of prices for sugar the jury should take into consideration, among other circumstances, the following:
"That there was, if you find that there was, a market price here in the community or generally with respect to the profit that normally should be made upon sugar sold either by manufacturers or jobbers and retailers."
In United States v. Culbertson, etc., Co., District Judge Rudkin, of the Eastern District of Washington, on the trial of defendant on July 8, 1920, charged the jury, among other things, that as a matter of law, defendant was entitled to sell its goods on the basis of the actual market value at the time and place of sale over and above the expense of handling the goods, and a reasonable profit, and that the original cost price became immaterial, except as it threw some light upon the market value.