Limits on Police Powers

Lawton v. Steele, 152 U.S. 133 (1894):

"The extent and limits of what is known as the 'police power' have been a fruitful subject of discussion in the appellate courts of nearly every state in the Union. It is universally conceded to include everything essential to the public safety, health, and morals, and to justify the destruction or abatement, by summary proceedings, of whatever may be regarded as a public nuisance. Under this power it has been held that the state may order the destruction of a house falling to decay, or otherwise endangering the lives of passers-by; the demolition of such as are in the path of a conflagration; the slaughter of diseased cattle; the destruction of decayed or unwholesome food; the prohibition of wooden buildings in cities; the regulation of railways and other means of public conveyance, and of interments in burial grounds; the restriction of objectionable trades to certain localities; the compulsory vaccination of children; the confinement of the insane or those afflicted with contagious diseases; the restraint of vagrants, beggars, and habitual drunkards; the suppression of obscene publications and houses of ill fame; and the prohibition of gambling houses and places where intoxicating liquors are sold. Beyond this, however, the state may interfere whereover the public interests demand it, and in this particular a large discretion is necessarily vested in the legislature to determine, not only what the interests of the public require, but what measures are necessary for the protection of such interests. Barbier v. Connolly, 113 U.S. 27, 5 Sup. Ct. 357; Kidd v. Pearson, 128 U.S. 1, 9 Sup. Ct. 6. To justify the state in thus interposing its authority in behalf of the public, it must appear-First, that the interests of the public generally, as distinguished from those of a particular class, require such interference; and, second, that the means are reasonably necessary for the accomplishment of the purpose, and not unduly oppressive upon individuals. The legislature may not, under the guise of protecting the public interests, arbitrarily interfere with private business, or impose unusual and unnecessary restrictions upon lawful occupations; in other words, its determination as to what is a proper exercise of its police powers is not final or conclusive, but is subject to the supervision of the courts. Thus, an act requiring the master of a vessel arriving from a foreign port to report the name, birthplace, and occupation of every passenger, and the owner of such vessel to give a bond for every passenger so reported, conditioned to indemnify the state against any expense for the support of the persons named for four years thereafter, was held by this court to be indefensible as an exercise of the police power, and to be void as interfering with the right of congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations. Henderson v. Mayor, U.S. 259. A similar statute of California, requiring a bond for certain classes of passengers described, among which were 'lewd and debauched women,' was also held to show very clearly that the purpose was to extort money from a large class of passengers, or to prevent their immigration to California altogether, and was held to invade the right of congress. Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275. So, in Railroad Co. V. Husen, 95 U.S. 465, a statute of Missouri which prohibited the driving of Texas, Mexican, or Indian cattle into the state between certain dates in each year was held to be in conflict with the commerce clause of the constitution, and not a legitimate exercise of the police powers of the state, though it was admitted that the state might, for its self- protection, prevent persons or animals having contagious diseases from entering its territory. In Rockwell v. Nearing, 35 N. Y. 302, an act of the legislature of New York which authorized the seizure and sale, without judicial process, of all animals found trespassing within private inclosures, was held to be obnoxious to the constitutional provision that no person should be deprived of his property without due process of law. See, also, Austin v. Murray, 16 Pick. 121; Watertown v. Mayo, 109 Mass. 315; Slaughterhouse Cases, 16 Wall. 36; In re Cheesbrough, 78 N. Y. 232; Brown v. Perkins, 12 Gray, 89. In all these cases the acts were held to be invalid as involving an unnecessary invasion of the rights of property, and a practical inhibition of certain occupations harmless in themselves, and which might be carried on without detriment to the public interests."