Child Labor Amendment

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The Child Labor Amendment is a proposed and still-pending amendment to the United States Constitution that would specifically authorize Congress to regulate "labor of persons under eighteen years of age". The amendment was proposed in 1924 following Supreme Court rulings in 1918 and 1922 that federal laws regulating and taxing goods produced by employees under the ages of 14 and 16 were unconstitutional.

The majority of the state governments ratified the amendment by the mid-1930s; however, it has not been ratified by the requisite 34 of the states according to Article V of the Constitution and none has ratified it after 1937. Interest in the amendment waned following the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which implemented federal regulation of child labor with the Supreme Court's approval in 1941.


The amendment was offered by Ohio Republican Congressman Israel Moore Foster on April 26, 1924, during the 68th Congress, in the form of House Joint Resolution No. 184. The text of the proposed amendment reads:

Section 1. The Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age.

Section 2. The power of the several States is unimpaired by this article except that the operation of State laws shall be suspended to the extent necessary to give effect to legislation enacted by the Congress.[1]


With the Keating–Owen Act of 1916, the United States Congress had attempted to regulate interstate commerce involving goods produced by employees under the ages of 14 or 16, depending on the type of work. The Supreme Court found this law unconstitutional in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918). Later that year, Congress attempted to levy a tax on businesses with employees under the ages of 14 or 16 (again depending on the type of work), which was struck down by the Supreme Court in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture. It became apparent that a constitutional amendment would be necessary for such legislation to overcome the Court's objections.[2]

Congressional history[edit]

House Joint Resolution No. 184 was adopted by the United States House of Representatives on April 26, 1924, with a vote of 297 yeas, 69 nays, 2 absent and 64 not voting.[3] It was then adopted by the Senate on June 2, 1924, with a vote of 61 yeas, 23 nays and 12 not voting.[4] And with that, the proposed constitutional amendment was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification pursuant to Article V of the Constitution.

Actions in the state legislatures[edit]

Ratification status of the Child Labor Amendment
  Ratified amendment
  Rejected the amendement

The Child Labor Amendment has been ratified by the legislatures of the following 28 states:

  1. Arkansas in 1924
  2. Arizona in 1925
  3. California in 1925
  4. Wisconsin in 1925
  5. Montana in 1927
  6. Colorado in 1931
  7. Illinois in 1933
  8. Iowa in 1933
  9. Maine in 1933
  10. Michigan in 1933
  11. Minnesota in 1933
  12. New Hampshire in 1933
  13. New Jersey in 1933
  14. North Dakota in 1933
  15. Ohio in 1933
  16. Oklahoma in 1933
  17. Oregon in 1933
  18. Pennsylvania in 1933
  19. Washington in 1933
  20. West Virginia in 1933
  21. Idaho in 1935
  22. Indiana in 1935
  23. Utah in 1935
  24. Wyoming in 1935
  25. Kentucky in 1936
  26. Kansas in 1937
  27. Nevada in 1937
  28. New Mexico in 1937

In 1929, the Nebraska Senate voted to ratify the Child Labor Amendment, but the Legislature's lower house did not (the Nebraska Legislature at that time was still bicameral); the Mississippi Senate voted to ratify the measure in 1934, but the state's House of Representatives did not; and in 1937, the New York Senate voted to ratify it, but the state's Assembly did not.

Although the act, on the part of state legislatures, of "rejecting" a proposed constitutional amendment has no legal recognition, such action does have political ramifications. The Child Labor Amendment was rejected—and not subsequently ratified—by lawmakers in North Carolina in 1924; in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont all in 1925; in Virginia in 1926; and in Maryland in 1927. In the specific case of Louisiana, its legislators rejected the Child Labor Amendment three times, first in 1924, again a decade later in 1934, and lastly in 1936.

Today, with 50 states in the Union, the ratifications of 10 additional states would be required to incorporate the proposed Child Labor Amendment into the Constitution.

Judicial history[edit]

If ever ratified by the required number of U.S. state legislatures, the Child Labor Amendment would repose in the Congress of the United States jurisdiction concurrent with that of the states to legislate on the subject of child labor. In this case, child labor laws would no longer explicitly fall under the jurisdiction of the states under the 10th Amendment. The states would have to yield to federal law where the two conflict—which is normal procedure anyway. After several state legislatures initially balked at the proposal during the 1920s, a number of them re-examined their position during the 1930s and decided to ratify. Those delayed actions resulted in much controversy and spawned the 1939 decision of the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case of Coleman v. Miller (307 U.S. 433) in which it was determined that the Child Labor Amendment remains pending business before the state legislatures because the 68th Congress did not specify a deadline within which the state legislatures must act upon the Child Labor Amendment. The Coleman v. Miller ruling formed the basis of the unusual and belated ratification of the 27th Amendment which was proposed by Congress in 1789 and ratified more than two centuries later in 1992 by the legislatures of at least three-fourths of the 50 states.

The common legal opinion of federal child labor regulation reversed in the 1930s. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 regulating the employment of those under 16 or 18 years of age. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of that law in United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941), which overturned Hammer v. Dagenhart – one of the key decisions that had motivated the proponents of the Child Labor Amendment. After this shift, the amendment has been described as "moot"[5] and effectively part of the Constitution;[6] the movement for it had concluded.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "S. DOC. 108-17 - Proposed Amendments Not Ratified by the States". The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis, and Interpretation - 2002 Edition. U.S. Government Printing Office. June 28, 2002. 
  2. ^ "Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916". Our Documents. National Archives. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  3. ^ 65 Congressional Record 7294-7295
  4. ^ 65 Congressional Record 10142
  5. ^ Vile, John R. (2003). Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments, and Amending Issues, 1789-2002. ABC-CLIO. p. 63. ISBN 9781851094288. 
  6. ^ Strauss, David A. (2010). The Living Constitution. Oxford University Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 9780195377279. 
  7. ^ Griffin, Stephen M. (1998). American Constitutionalism: From Theory to Politics. Princeton University Press. p. 89. ISBN 9780691002408. 

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