Did you know that producing and eating margarine was once the center of a Wisconsin Supreme Court case? One of the students in NCSS’ eighth grade, who chooses not to be named, researched what it was all about. This is an abstract from his essay covering famous Wisconsin and federal supreme court cases.
One major court case that affected Wisconsin would be John F. Jelke Company v. Emery. This specific case centers around a Wisconsin law that made it illegal to make or sell margarine in the state. The Legislature put this law in effect around 1925 in order to aid the dairy industry. A unanimous court decision found that the Legislature should not be attempting to give one industry an advantage over another.
The law against margarine was filed under Chapter 279, Section 352.365 of the laws of 1925. The law said that producing and selling a butter substitute containing milk fats (oleomargarine or oleo) was prohibited in the state of Wisconsin. Emery was a dairy and food commissioner for Wisconsin. He argued that it was his duty to enforce the laws of chapter 279. Emery petitioned the court to prohibit John F. Jelke Company from producing and selling oleo. Justice Rosenberry stated that “prohibition can only be justified upon the ground that it is necessary in order to protect the public health, public morals, public safety, prevent fraud or promote public welfare.” Then Rosenberry referenced cases offering evidence that oleomargarine was accepted as “nutritious, wholesome, healthful food” which did not endanger public safety or health, so the prohibition of oleo production and sale was not justified.
While the court agreed that oleo is a substitute forbutter, it is still marketed and sold under its own merits, so there is no evidence of fraud and there was “certainly no question of morals” regarding the issue.
Considering Emery’s argument that the sale of oleomargarine created unfair competition for the state’s dairy industry, Rosenberry concluded that, “From the standpoint of constitutional right, the legislature has no more power to prohibit the manufacture and sale of oleomargarine in the aid of the dairy industry than it would have to prohibit the raising of sheep in the aid of beef-cattle industry or to prohibit the manufacture and sale of cement for the benefit of the lumber industry.”
To sum it all up, the Supreme Court determined that prohibiting the sale of oleomargarine was helping a particular class of citizens and harming another. Therefore, the court said it had a duty to stop the oppressive acts of the legislation.