The Law: Pay Up or Shut Off

The Supreme Court delivered bad tidings last week to people who have not paid their gas, telephone or electric bills. Speaking for a 6-to-3 majority, Justice William Rehnquist said that even though a private utility is a state-regulated monopoly and provides an essential service, it has no constitutional obligation to give customers a hearing before cutting off service.

Mrs. Catherine Jackson, a York, Pa., welfare mother, had her electric power switched off without a hearing in October 1971. The Metropolitan Edison Co. had discontinued Mrs. Jackson's service once before when she failed to pay her bill but later restored it under a...

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