A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495, 55 S. Ct. 837, 79 L. Ed. 1570 (1935), is one of the most famous cases from the Great Depression era. The case tested the legality of certain methods used by Congress and President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT to combat the devastating economic effects of the depression. After the U.S. Supreme Court declared the methods unconstitutional, Roosevelt publicly scolded the Court and later used the decision as one justification for a controversial plan to stock the Court with justices more receptive of Roosevelt's programs.
At the heart of the Schechter case was legislation passed by Congress in 1933. The NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL RECOVERY ACT (NIRA) (48 Stat. 195) was passed in response to the unemployment and poverty that swept the nation in the early 1930s and provided for the establishment of local codes for fair competition in industry. The codes were written by private trade and industrial groups. If the president approved the codes, they became law. Businesses were required to display a Blue Eagle insignia from the NATIONAL RECOVERY ADMINISTRATION to signify their compliance with the codes. Typical local codes set minimum wages and maximum hours for workers and gave workers the right to organize into unions and engage in COLLECTIVE BARGAINING with management. Codes also prescribed fair trade practices, and many codes set minimum prices for the sale of goods.
The Schechter Poultry Corporation, owned and operated by Joseph, Martin, Alex, and Aaron Schechter, was in the business of selling chickens at wholesale. The corporation purchased some of the poultry from outside the state of New York. It bought the poultry at markets and railroad terminals in New York City and sold the poultry to retailers in the city and surrounding environs. In April 1934 President Roosevelt approved the code of fair competition for the live poultry industry of the New York City metropolitan area (Live Poultry Code). In July 1934 the Schechters were arrested and indicted on 60 counts of violating the Live Poultry Code. The indictment included charges that Schechter Poultry had failed to observe the MINIMUM WAGE and maximum hour provisions applicable to workers and that it had violated a provision of the Live Poultry Code prohibiting the sale of unfit chickens. The case became popularly known as the Sick Chicken case.
The Schechters pleaded not guilty to the charges...