Friday, November 14, 2008

Persons Affected by Law Do Not Know When It Applies

A further consideration is that this ordinance is so vague and indefinite that the persons to be affected thereby could not reasonably be expected to know whether or not it was intended to apply in a given situation. A man of common intelligence would necessarily have to guess at its meaning as applicable to any contract act or activity. While the express intention of the ordinance is to prohibit only such closed shop agreements as are neither prohibited nor authorized by state laws, that provision in itself is most confusing and uncertain. Whether any particular act or activity is or is not covered by state law, or whether any such act is or is not allowed in view of the effect of certain federal laws, and many other questions which would normally arise, are left with no standard by which the ordinary man could know whether or not his acts were lawful within the meaning of the ordinance. This uncertainty and vagueness is accentuated by the criminal provisions of the ordinance. Under well settled principles a criminal statute must be sufficiently explicit to inform those who are subject to it as to what conduct on their part would render them liable to its penalty. In this respect this ordinance violates one of the first essentials of due process of law. While the ordinance contains a clause declaring its provisions to be severable, it is so indefinite as to give no adequate warning as to the circumstances under which any particular act or activity will subject a person to criminal punishment. As the court said Smith v. Cahoon: 'The Legislature could not thus impose upon laymen, at the peril of criminal prosecution, the duty of severing the statutory provisions and of thus resolving important constitutional questions with respect to the scope of a field of regulation as to which even courts are not yet in accord.'

Other phases of this problem need not be considered at length, including the effect of this ordinance in connection with certain federal legislation such as the Railway Labor Act, the Labor Relations Act, and the Taft-Hartley Act; the probable effect on interstate commerce in many cases and in varying circumstances; and the effect on intrastate business with its many implications and problems involving agreements made outside of the city and activities carried on both in and out of the city. It is clearly apparent that under the complicated and interrelated conditions of modern business and industrial life, this should be and is a matter of widespread rather than local interest and concern, and that a contrary conclusion, permitting hundreds of varying and inconsistent local ordinances, would lead to indescribable confusion.

We are here concerned solely with the validity of this particular ordinance and not with the wisdom or desirability of legislation of this nature in a wider field. Because this ordinance conflicts with existing state public policy and law, and because of its vague and indefinite terms, we conclude that the demurrer to the complaint was properly overruled.

The judgment is affirmed.

For further case law see Court Addressed Scope of General Laws of the State; Miller v. Lawlor; and Promissory Estoppel.