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Boston Beer Company v. Massachusetts 97 U.S. 25 (1878)

BOSTON BEER COMPANY v. MASSACHUSETTS 97 U.S. 25 (1878)

This case introduced the doctrine of inalienable police power, which weakened the contract clause's protections of property. The company's charter authorized it to manufacture beer subject to a reserved power of the legislature to alter, amend, or repeal the charter. The state subsequently enacted a prohibition statute. The reserved police power should have been sufficient ground for the holding by the Court that the prohibition statute did not impair the company's chartered right to do business. However, Justice joseph p. bradley, in an opinion for a unanimous Court, found another and "equally decisive" reason for rejecting the argument that the company had a contract to manufacture and sell beer "forever." The company held its rights subject to the police power of the state to promote the public safety and morals. "The Legislature," Bradley declared, "cannot, by any contract, devest itself of the power to provide for these objects." Accordingly the enactment of a statute prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors did not violate the contract clause. Decisions such as this, by which the police power prevailed over chartered rights, produced a doctrinal response: the development of substantive due process to protect property.

Leonard W. Levy
(1986)

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