Muller v. Oregon
|Muller v. Oregon|
Supreme Court of the United States
|Argued January 15, 1908
Decided February 24, 1908
|Full case name||Curt Muller, Plaintiff in Error v. The State of Oregon. Appellant's claim: Oregon's 1903 maximum hours law is unconstitutional.|
|Citations||208 U.S. 412 (more)
28 S. Ct. 324;52 L. Ed. 551;1908 U.S. LEXIS 1452
|Prior history||Defendant convicted; affirmed, 85 P. 855 (Or. 1906)|
|Oregon's limit on the working hours of women was constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, because it was justified by the strong state interest in protecting women's health. Supreme Court of Oregon affirmed.|
|Majority||Brewer, joined by unanimous|
|U.S. Const. amend. XIV; 1903 Or. Laws p. 148|
Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908), was a landmark decision in United States Supreme Court history, as it justifies both sex discrimination and usage of labor laws during the time period. The case upheld Oregon state restrictions on the working hours of women as justified by the special state interest in protecting women's health. The ruling had important implications for protective labor legislation. The case was decided a mere three years after Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905), in which a New York law restricting the weekly working hours of bakers was invalidated.
Curt Muller, the owner of a laundry business, was convicted of violating Oregon labor laws by making a female employee work more than ten hours in a single day. Muller was fined $10. Muller appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which upheld the constitutionality of the labor law and affirmed his conviction.
In Justice David Josiah Brewer's unanimous opinion in Muller, the Court upheld the Oregon regulation. The Court did not overrule Lochner, but instead distinguished it on the basis of "the difference between the sexes." The child-bearing physiology and social role of women provided a strong state interest in reducing their working hours.
|“||That woman's physical structure and the performance of maternal functions place her at a disadvantage in the struggle for subsistence is obvious. This is especially true when the burdens of motherhood are upon her. Even when they are not, by abundant testimony of the medical fraternity continuance for a long time on her feet at work, repeating this from day to day, tends to injurious effects upon the body, and as healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical well-being of woman becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race." 208 U.S. at 412.||”|
Future Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandeis, as additional counsel for the State of Oregon, filed a voluminous brief in support of the Oregon law that collected empirical data from hundreds of sources. In what became known as the "Brandeis Brief", the report provided social authorities on the issue of the impact of long working hours on women. This was the first instance in the United States that social science had been used in law and changed the direction of the Supreme Court and of U.S. law. The Brandeis Brief became the model for future Supreme Court presentations.
Though with the state winning in shorter hours for women, and the popular progressives being happy with the outcome, equal-rights feminists were against this because it worked so heavily on the separation of the sexes into two stereotyped gender-roles and restricted women's financial independence.This labor law gave women more protection but it excluded women of color, food processors, agricultural workers, and white collar educated women. The governmental interest in public welfare outweighed the freedom of contract that is displayed in the 14th Amendment and the effects of Muller v. Oregon did not change until the New Deal days in the 1930s. It was also a watershed in the development of maternalist reforms.
The ruling was criticized because it set a precedent to use sex differences, and in particular, women's child-bearing capacity, as a basis for separate legislation, supporting the idea that the family has priority over women's rights as workers.
See also 
- History of labor law in the United States
- Brandeis Brief
- List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 208
- Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905)
- Adkins v. Children's Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923)
- West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937)
- Baron, Ava (1981). "Protective Labor Legislation and the Cult of Domesticity". Journal of Family Issues (SAGE Publications) 2 (1): 25–38. doi:10.1177/0192513X8100200103.
- Brandeis, L. D. (1907). The Brandeis Brief. Retrieved January 27, 2010, from http://www.law.louisville.edu/library/collections/brandeis/node/235
- Woloch, N. (1996). Muller v. Oregon: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press.
- Barney, S. L. (1999). Maternalism and the Promotion of Scientific Medicine during the Industrial Transformation of Appalachia, 1880-1930. NWSA Journal, 11(3), 68-92.
- Koven, S., & Michel, S. (1993). Mothers of a New World, Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States (). Routledge.
Further reading 
- Becker, Mary E. (1986). "From Muller v. Oregon to Fetal Vulnerability Policies". University of Chicago Law Review (The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 53, No. 4) 53 (4): 1219–1273. doi:10.2307/1599748. JSTOR 1599748.
- Bernstein, David E. (2011). Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights against Progressive Reform. Chapter 4. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-04353-3
- Cushman, Clare (2001). Supreme Court Decisions and Women's Rights: Milestone to Equality. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly. pp. 17–18. ISBN 1-56802-614-5.
- Woloch, Nancy (1996). Muller v. Oregon: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-12816-9.
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