Interstate Commerce Commission v. Illinois Central Railroad 215 U.S. 452 (1910)

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The hepburn act of 1906 and a decision by the Supreme Court the following year began reviving the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) after a series of devastating decisions. The Court had denied the commission the power to revise rates in interstate commerce commission v. cincinnati, new orleans & texas pacific railway (1897), and had struck hard at the provision of the interstate commerce act outlawing long haul-short haul discrimination in Interstate Commerce Commission v. Alabama Midland Railway Co. (1897). The Court reversed ICC orders on both legal and policy grounds at an astonishing rate, and the commission spent nearly the first twenty years of its existence fighting Court-imposed obstacles.

The Interstate Commerce Act had declared that ICC findings were to be considered prima facie evidence but until 1907 the Court, in fact, reviewed all evidence de novo, thereby allowing the railroads to present previously withheld evidence on appeal. This practice discredited the commission and put the Court in the business of rate regulation. In Illinois Central Railroad Company v. Interstate Commerce Commission (1907), the Court declared that it would no longer reexamine the facts of a case on appeal; the commission was a responsible tribunal and its findings of fact would be accorded "probative force."

Because of the passage of the mann-elkins act and a favorable 8–1 decision in Interstate Commerce Commission v. Illinois Central Railroad, 1910 was a good year for the ICC. In this case the Court indicated its willingness to support the commission, laying down its guidelines for the determination of the validity of ICC orders. The Justices expected to continue to review commission orders, but solely in reference to constitutional issues, statutory construction of "the scope of the delegated authority" under which the ICC issued the order, and the practical "substance" of the order. Nevertheless, the Court henceforth specifically refused "under the guise of exerting judicial power, [to] usurp merely administrative functions by setting aside a lawful administrative order upon our conception as to whether the administrative power has been wisely exercised. Power to make the order and not the mere expediency or wisdom of having made it is the question."

David Gordon

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Interstate Commerce Commission v. Illinois Central Railroad 215 U.S. 452 (1910)

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