Interstate circuit and conspiracy theories

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What are the odds that, for eight decades, courts, scholars, and practitioners would use a relatively uniform but quite misguided summary of a Supreme Court's landmark decision to develop and illustrate doctrinal concepts? Interstate Circuit v. United States (1939),2 one of the most known antitrust decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, demonstrates such reliance on myths. Interstate Circuit concerned proof of conspiracy with circumstantial evidence.3 Hundreds of judicial opinions, books, monographs, and articles summarize the facts of Interstate Circuit. 4 Excerpts or summaries of the opinion appear in most antitrust casebooks. The summaries of the case are very similar in their details. This is hardly surprising. Interstate Circuit is known for the analysis of its factual findings. Summaries of the case, therefore, are expected to be relatively uniform. But the uniformity in this instance is conformity with an account that is plainly incorrect. Any serious reading of the Supreme Court's opinion should conclude that the popular account omits material factual findings and presents events that are unlikely to happen. Old myths die hard, and the debunking of some myths serves no meaningful purpose. The examination of the Interstate Circuit myth, this Article argues, sheds light on the flaws of several important antitrust doctrines and higlights certain aspects of antitrust analysis that require refinement. Simplified summaries, stylized facts, and hypotheticals often offer useful representations of events, reality, and complex texts.5 The popular account of Interstate Circuit, this Article shows, does not have such qualities. Its extensive use in judicial opinions and the literature contributed to confusion about the essence of antitrust conspiracies and the legal standards that courts may use to infer conspiracy from circumstantial evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1447-1496
Number of pages50
JournalUniversity of Illinois Law Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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