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3. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935)
The first 100 days of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal saw an unprecedented expansion of federal power into every nook and cranny of American life. But no New Deal law went further than the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which attempted the impossible: to centrally plan the U.S. economy. Through the creation of more than 500 “codes of fair competition,” the Roosevelt administration and its allies in Congress sought to dictate the country’s economic affairs. The federal government established cartels, rigged prices, and punished those who refused to toe the line. One such lawbreaker, a 49-year-old immigrant dry cleaner named Jacob Maged, spent three months in jail because he charged 35 cents to press a suit, instead of the 40 cent price mandated by the New Deal.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court put a stop to the madness. The National Industrial Recovery Act must be nullified, declared Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, writing for a unanimous Court in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, otherwise there would “be virtually no limit to the federal power, and, for all practical purposes, we should have a completely centralized government.” Even left-leaning Justice Louis Brandeis was outraged by the New Dealers’ misdeeds. As Brandeis told White House lawyers Tommy Corcoran and Ben Cohen, “This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.”
Next: A Presumption of Liberty