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Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (91-0194), 504 U.S. 298 (1992).
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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


No. 91-194


QUILL CORPORATION, PETITIONER v. NORTH DAKOTA by and through its TAX COMMIS SIONER, HEIDI HEITKAMP

on writ of certiorari to the supreme court of north dakota

[May 26, 1992]

Justice Scalia , with whom Justice Kennedy and I also agree that the Commerce Clause holding of Bellas Hess should not be overruled. Unlike the Court, however, I would not revisit the merits of that holding, but would adhere to it on the basis of stare decisis. American Trucking Assns., Inc. v. Smith, 496 U.S. 167, 204 (1990) (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment). Congress has the final say over regulation of interstate commerce, and it can change the rule of Bellas Hess by simply saying so. We have long recognized that the doctrine of stare decisis has "special force" where "Congress remains free to alter what we have done." Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 172-173 (1989). See also Hilton v. South Carolina Pub. Railways Comm'n, 502 U. S. ___, ___ (1991) (slip op., at 4); Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 720, 736 (1977). Moreover, the demands of the doctrine are "at their acme . . . where reliance interests are involved," Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U. S. ___, ___ (1991) (slip op., at 18). As the Court notes, "the Bellas Hess rule has engendered substantial reliance and has become part of the basic framework of a sizeable industry," ante, at 17.

I do not share Justice White's view that we may dis regard these reliance interests because it has become unreasonable to rely upon Bellas Hess, post, at 11-12. Even assuming for the sake of argument (I do not consider the point) that later decisions in related areas are inconsistent with the principles upon which Bellas Hess rested, we have never acknowledged that, but have instead carefully distinguished the case on its facts. See, e. g., D. H. HolmesCo. v. McNamara, 486 U.S. 24, 33 (1988); National Geographic Soc., supra, at 559. It seems to me important that we retain our ability--and, what comes to the same thing, that we maintain public confidence in our ability--sometimes to adopt new principles for the resolution of new issues without abandoning clear holdings of the past that those principles contradict. We seemed to be doing that in this area. Having affirmatively suggested that the "physical presence" rule could be reconciled with our new jurisprudence, we ought not visit economic hardship upon those who took us at our word. We have recently told lower courts that "[i]f a precedent of this Court has direct application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions, [they] should follow the case which directly controls, leaving to this Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions." Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/American Express, Inc., 490 U.S. 477, 484 (1989). It is strangely incompatible with this to demand that private parties anticipate our overrulings. It is my view, in short, that reliance upon a square, unabandoned holding of the Supreme Court is always justifiable reliance (though reliance alone may not always carry the day). Finally, the "physical presence" rule established in Bellas Hess is not "unworkable," Patterson, supra, at 173; to the contrary, whatever else may be the substantive pros and cons of the rule, the "bright line" regime that it establishes, see ante, at 15-16, is unqualifiedly in its favor. Justice White's concern that reaffirmance of Bellas Hess will lead to a flurry of litigation over the meaning of "physical presence," see post, at 10, seems to me contradicted by 25 years of experience under the decision.

For these reasons, I concur in the judgment of the Court and join Parts I, II, and III of its opinion.