Certain to be mentioned during oral arguments this week before the United States Supreme Court about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is another Supreme Court ruling affecting public health – the Sick Chicken Case, formally known as A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States.
The dispute was over regulations that were a part of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1937, a part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In addition to the regulation of the sale of whole chickens, the Act more globally included controls on work hours, wage and price fixing, and the right to unionize.
The government brought action claiming that the Schechters sold sick and uninspected chickens, thus endangering the public health. The federal government also argued that it had a right to impose “codes of fair competition,” even on local trade.
The Court unanimously found against the government and held that the NIRA was an impermissable violation of the separation of legislative and executive powers. The Court also found that the NIRA was in excess of Congressional authority under the Commerce clause.
The Court acknowledged that while the sale of poultry happened on an interstate basis, the transactions of any one merchant occurred largely on an intrastate basis. Clearly, the Court was wary that Congress could use the Commerce clause to reach any matter of individual or local import and could supercede legitimate state process.