|Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co.
[ Brennan ]
[ Powell ]
[ Stevens ]
Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co.
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MINNESOTA
JUSTICE POWELL, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
The Minnesota statute at issue bans the retail sale of milk in plastic nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers, but permits such sale in paperboard milk cartons. Respondents challenged the validity of the statute under both the Equal Protection and Commerce Clauses. The Minnesota District Court agreed with respondents on both grounds. The Supreme Court of Minnesota also agreed that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause, but found it unnecessary to reach the Commerce Clause issue.
This Court today reverses the Supreme Court of Minnesota, finding no merit in either of the alleged grounds of invalidity. I concur in the view that the statute survives equal protection challenge, and therefore join the Judgment of reversal on this [p475] ground. I also agree with most of Parts I and II of the Court's opinion.
I would not, however, reach the Commerce Clause issue, but would remand it for consideration by the Supreme Court of Minnesota. The District Court expressly found:
12. Despite the purported policy statement published by the legislature as its basis for enacting Chapter 268, the actual basis was to promote the economic interests of certain segments of the local dairy and pulpwood industries at the expense of the economic interests of other segments of the dairy industry and the plastics industry.
App. to Pet. for Cert. A-24. At a subsequent point in its opinion, and in even more explicit language, the District Court reiterated its finding that the purpose of the statute related to interstate commerce. [n1] These findings were highly relevant to the question whether the statute discriminated against interstate commerce. See Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617, 624 (1978) ("The crucial inquiry . . . must be directed to determining whether [the statute] is basically a protectionist measure, or whether it can fairly be viewed as a law directed to legitimate local concerns, with effects upon interstate commerce that are only incidental"). Indeed, the trial court's findings normally would require us to conclude that the Minnesota Legislature was engaging in such discrimination, as they were not rejected by the Minnesota Supreme Court. That court simply invalidated the statute on equal protection grounds, and had no reason to consider the claim of discrimination against interstate commerce. [p476]
The Minnesota Supreme Court did accept the avowed legislative purpose of the statute. It stated:
The Act is intended to promote the policies stated in Minn.St. 116F.01; therefore, it is intended to promote the state interest of encouraging the reuse and recycling of materials and reducing the amount and type of material entering the solid waste stream.
289 N.W.2d 79, 82 (1979). The Court today reads this statement as an implied rejection of the trial court's specific finding that the
actual [purpose] was to promote the economic interests of certain segments of the local dairy and pulpwood industries at the expense of the economic interests
of the nonresident dairy and plastics industry. In my view, however, the Minnesota Supreme Court was merely assuming that the statute was intended to promote its stated purposes. It was entirely appropriate for that court to accept, for purposes of equal protection analysis, the purpose expressed in the statute. See ante at 463, n. 7. When the court did so, however, there is no reason to conclude that it intended to express or imply any view on any issue it did not consider. In drawing its conclusions, the court included no discussion whatever of the Commerce Clause issue and, certainly, no rejection of the trial court's express and repeated findings concerning the legislature's actual purpose. [n2]
I conclude therefore that this Court has no basis for inferring a rejection of the quite specific factfindings by the trial court. The Court's decision today, holding that Chapter 268 does not violate the Commerce Clause, is flatly contrary [p477] to the only relevant specific findings of fact. Although we are not barred from reaching the Commerce Clause issue, in doing so, we also act without the benefit of a decision by the highest court of Minnesota on the question. In these circumstances, it is both unnecessary and, in my opinion, inappropriate for this Court to decide the Commerce Clause issue. See, e.g., FTC v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 363 U.S. 536, 542 (1960); United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78, 88 (1944). Because no reason has been offered for a departure from our customary restraint, I would remand the case with instructions to consider specifically whether the statute discriminated impermissibly against interstate commerce.
1. Finding 23 of the District Court was as follows:
23. Despite the purported policy reasons published by the Legislature as bases for enacting Chapter 268, actual bases were to isolate from interstate competition the interests of certain segments of the local dairy and pulpwood industries. The economic welfare of such local interests can be promoted without the remedies prescribed in Chapter 268.
App. to Pet. for Cert. A-27 (emphasis added).
2. Commerce Clause analysis differs from analysis under the "rational basis" test. Under the Commerce Clause, a court is empowered to disregard a legislature's statement of purpose if it considers it a pretext. See Dean Milk Co. v. Madison, 340 U.S. 349, 354 (1951) ("A different view, that the ordinance is valid simply because it professes to be a health measure, would mean that the Commerce Clause, of itself, imposes no limitations on state action other than those laid down by the Due Process Clause, save for the rare instance where a state artlessly discloses an avowed purpose to discriminate against interstate goods").