Republic Natural Gas Company v. Oklahoma/Concurrence Douglas

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United States Supreme Court

334 U.S. 62

Republic Natural Gas Company  v.  Oklahoma

 Argued: Jan. 6, 1948. --- Decided: May 3, 1948

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring.

The judgment of the Oklahoma court is not 'final' merely because it establishes that Republic has no right to drain away the Peerless gas without paying for it. I think it would be conceded that, even so, the judgment would not be 'final' if it offered appellant three alternative ways to comply and there were doubts as to the constitutionality of any one of them. Then we would wait to see which of the alternatives was ultimately selected or imposed before reviewing the constitutionality of any of them. But there would be no more reason to defer decision on the merits in that case than in this. For the constitutional questions would be isolated in each and we woud be as uncertain in one as in the other which of the alternatives would actually apply to appellant. And the principle seems to me to be the same even when a majority of us would sustain the order whatever alternative was chosen as its sanction.

There is, of course, in the one case the chance of saving the order only if one remedy rather than another is chosen, while in the other the order would survive whichever was chosen. But in each we would be giving needless constitutional dissertations on some points. That is nontheless true in a case where the constitutional questions seem to a majority of us simple, uncomplicated and of no great dignity. For the single constitutional question necessary for decision will not be isolated until the precise pinch of the order on the appellant is known. It will not be known in the present case at least until appellant elects or is required (1) to shut down, (2) to become a carrier of the Peerless gas, or (3) to purchase it.

The legal, as well as the economic, relationship which Republic will bear to Peerless will vary as one or another choice is made. To make Republic a 'carrier' is to submit it to different business risks than to make it a 'purchaser.' The fact that each would raise only questions of 'due process' under the Fourteenth Amendment does not mean that the questions are identical. Even when reasonableness is the test, judges have developed great contrariety of opinions. The point is that today the variables are presented only in the abstract. Tomorrow the facts will be known, when the precise impact of the order on appellant will be determined. Thus to me the policy against premature constitutional adjudication precludes us from saying the judgment in the present case is 'final.'

Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE, with whom Mr. Justice BLACK, Mr. Justice MURPHY, and Mr. Justice BURTON join, dissenting.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).