Landmark Supreme Court Case: Mugler v. Kansas (1887)
Mugler v. Kansas (1887) is the 27th landmark Supreme Court case, the ninth case in the Economics module, featured in the KTB Prep American Government and Civics Series designed to acquaint users with the origins, concepts, organizations, and policies of the United States government and political system. The goal is greater familiarization with the rights and obligations of citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels and the history of our nation as a democracy. While there is overlap, these landmark cases are separated into cases addressing:
- Foreign Policy
- Science & Technology
- Public Safety
- Death Penalty
- Speech, Press, and Protest
- Criminal Justice
- Politics, Society, Freedom, and Equality
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Article III of the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court and authorized Congress to pass laws establishing a system of lower courts. The Constitution elaborated neither the exact powers and prerogatives of the Supreme Court nor the organization of the Judicial Branch as a whole. Thus, it has been left to Congress and to the Justices of the Court through their decisions to develop the Federal Judiciary and a body of Federal law.
The number of Justices on the Supreme Court changed six times before settling at the present total of nine in 1869. Since the formation of the Court in 1790, there have been only 17 Chief Justices* and 102 Associate Justices, with Justices serving for an average of 16 years. On average a new Justice joins the Court almost every two years.
The Supreme Court of the United States hears about 100 to 150 appeals of the more than 7,000 cases it is asked to review every year. That means the decisions made by the 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals across the country and the Federal Circuit Court are the last word in thousands of cases.
Court of Appeals
In the federal court system’s present form, 94 district level trial courts and 13 courts of appeals sit below the Supreme Court. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals. The appellate court’s task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the trial court. Appeals courts consist of three judges and do not use a jury.
The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They do not hear witnesses testify. There is no jury. Appellate courts review the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to make sure that the proceedings were fair and that the proper law was applied correctly.
A court of appeals hears challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws, and cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
The nation’s 94 trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. At a trial in a U.S. District Court, witnesses give testimony and a judge or jury decides who is guilty or not guilty — or who is liable or not liable. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right.
Trial courts include the district judge who tries the case and a jury that decides the case. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases.
There is at least one district court in each state, and the District of Columbia. Each district includes a U.S. bankruptcy court as a unit of the district court.
Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases involving personal, business, or farm bankruptcy. This means a bankruptcy case cannot be filed in state court. Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) are 3-judge panels authorized to hear appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. These panels are a unit of the federal courts of appeals, and must be established by that circuit. Five circuits have established panels: First Circuit, Sixth Circuit, Eighth Circuit, Ninth Circuit, and Tenth Circuit.
Mugler v. Kansas (1887)
In 1877, prior to the passage of the Kansas constitutional amendment and its accompanying statute, Peter Mugler had built a brewery in Salina, Kansas. He spent $10,000 on the brewery’s construction and had obtained a corporate charter from the state allowing him to operate a brewery. It was completed in 1877 and used for the manufacture of intoxicating malt liquor, commonly known as beer, up until May 1, 1881.
As part of the burgeoning temperance movement, the people of Kansas amended their state constitution on November 2, 1880:
The manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors shall be forever prohibited in this state, except for medical, scientific and mechanical purposes.
The Kansas Legislature subsequently enacted an accompanying statute on February 19, 1881 that provided that after May 1, 1881, any person who manufactured or aided in the manufacture of any liquor without an appropriate permit would be guilty of a misdemeanor. First-time violators were to be fined not less than $100 nor more than $500 or to be imprisoned in the county jail for not less than 20 nor more than 90 days.Following the enactment of the statute, Mugler did not obtain a permit for the manufacture or sale of alcohol.
In November 1881, authorities indicted Peter Mugler in the District Court of Saline County, Kansas, for violation of the statutes. The first indictment contained five counts alleging that Mugler had sold, bartered, or given away intoxicating liquors without a permit and a sixth count alleging that his brewery was a public nuisance for being a place used in violation of the statute. The second indictment contained one count alleging Mugler had manufactured intoxicating liquors without a permit.
The District Court found Mugler guilty and fined him $100 and court fees. It subsequently rejected the defendant’s motions for a new trial and for an arrest of judgment. The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed on appeal.
On March 7, 1885, the legislature supplemented the statute by providing that all places in which intoxicating liquors were manufactured, sold, bartered, or given away or kept for sale, barter, or use were a nuisance and subject to abatement where a court judged them so. Courts adjudicating nuisance complaints were to sit in equity; also, the statute required the state meet the burden of proving that the defendant did not possess a permit, in which case the judge must declare the place complained of a nuisance. Offending owners of nuisances were to be fined not less than $100 nor more than $500 or to be imprisoned in the county jail for not less than 30 nor more than 90 days. The brewery-specific design of Mugler’s facility allegedly made it difficult to employ in other trades, subsequently dropping the value of the building to only $2500.
Mugler Questions and Answers
Q: Does a state law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors, subsequently rendering property used for the purposes described of little economic value, deprive the owner of that property in conflict with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
A: No. the Kansas prohibition does not infringe on Fourteenth Amendment rights. Though Mugler has an abstract right to make liquor for his own use, such a right could be conditioned on its effect on others.
8-1 ruling the regulation and prohibition of alcohol are constitutional exercises of state police power. Conviction affirmed. The case laid the foundation for the Court’s later acceptance and defense during the Lochner era of the theory of economic substantive due process under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The principle requiring property holders not to use their property so as to be injurious to the community was compatible with the Fourteenth Amendment. The court declared it possessed the power to inquire into the intentions of the legislature behind police power regulations to settle disputes over the relatedness of the regulation to a state’s use of the police power.
The authority for the statute in this case strictly relied upon Kansas’s police power (not the Pumpelly standard Mugler argued which was solely the state power of eminent domain). Since the statute dealt with the health, the safety, and the morals of the population, a prohibition on the use of property, by valid legislation, for purposes of protecting the health and safety of the community cannot be deemed a taking or an appropriation of property for public benefit. The legislation did not restrict the owners control, right to dispose, or ability to use for lawful purposes, no taking had occurred.
States cannot be burdened with the condition that they must compensate individual owners for incidental losses suffered as a result of a prohibition on the use of property. Additionally, property values which depreciate as a result of the state’s exercise of the police power is different from taking property for public use.
In one case a nuisance is abated; in the other, property is taken away from the owner completely. If public safety requires certain action be taken by the legislature, lawmakers cannot be persuaded from discontinuing such activity because individuals will suffer incidental inconveniences.
Professor Richard Adelstein of Wesleyan University on Mugler v. Kansas (1887)
Next Economics Case: Kidd v. Pearson (1888)
Previous Economics Case: Munn v. Illinois (1877)
Previous Case: Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886)