Pennsylvania noticed that
companies making bedcovers (aka 'comfortables') were sometimes stuffing
them with filthy rags and cut up secondhand clothing (aka 'shoddy').
Because of worries about communicable diseases, they passed a Statute
forbidding the practice.
Secondhand clothing was
often filthy with lice and mold.
Palmer Brothers was charged
with violating the law.
The US Supreme Court found
Pennsylvania's consumer protection law to be unconstitutional.
The US Supreme Court noted
that it is within a State's police powers to make laws to protect public health.
However, the Court found
that the rags could easily be sterilized, and there was no evidence that
lots of people were getting sick, so there was no health concern.
Therefore, the law was
unreasonable and arbitrary, and an unconstitutional interference with the
freedom of contract included
within the Due Process Clause
of the 14th Amendment.
This case is an early example
of how the US Supreme Court will overturn laws that are overbroad. The law could have just required companies to
wash the rags before using them. That would have been much less
restrictive and still solved the problem. Since there was a less
restrictive solution, the Court struck down the law.